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Full text of "Indiscreet Letters From Peking"

INDISCREET LETTER 
FROM PEKING 

BEING THE NOTES OF AN EYE-WITNESS, WHICH 
SET FORTH IN SOME DETAIL, FROM DAY TO 
DAY, THE REAL STORY OF THE SK "E AND SACK 
OF A DISTRESSED CAPITAL IN 1900- -THE YEAR 
OF GREAT TRIBULATION : : : : : 

EDITED BY 

B. L. PUTNAM WEALE 

Author of "Manclm and Muscovite," 
and " The Re-shaping of the Far East " 



NEW YORK 
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 

1907 



COPYRIGHT, 1907 

By DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 

Published, March, 1907 



CONTENTS 

FOREWORD i 

PART I THE WARNING 

* I FRAGMENTS 7 

II MUTTERINGS 12 

III OVERCAST SKIES 16 

IV OUR GUARDS ARRIVE 22 
V THE PLOT THICKENS 26 

VI THE LICKING FLAMES APPROACH 32 
VII THE CITY OF PEKING AND ALL ITS 

GLORIES 38 

VIII SOME INCIDENTS AND THE ONE MAN 47 

IX THE COMING OF THE BOXERS 54 

X BARRICADES AND RELIEFS 66 

XI SOME MEN AND THINGS 75 

XII HELL HOUNDS 79 

XIII A FEW CRUMBS 84 

XIV THE ULTIMATUM 88 
XV THE DEBACLE BEGINS 95 

PART II -THE SIEGE 

I CHAOS 108 

II THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 120 

III FIRES AND FOOD 136 

IV THE BONDS TIGHTEN 144 
V THE MYSTERIOUS BOARD OF TRUCE 155 

VI SHELLS AND SORTIES 162 

VII THE HOSPITAL AND THE GRAVEYARD 178 



FOREWORD 

THE publication of these letters, dealing with the 
startling events which took place in Peking during the 
summer and autumn of 1900, at this late date may be 
justified on a number of counts. In the first place, there 
can be but little doubt that an exact narrative from the 
pen of an eye-witness who saw everything, and knew 
exactly what was going on from day to day, and even 
from hour to hour, in the diplomatic world of the Chi- 
nese capital during the deplorable times when the dread 
Boxer movement overcast everything so much that even 
in England the South African War was temporarily for- 
gotten, is of intense human interest, showing most clearly 
as it does, perhaps for the first time in realistic fashion, 
the extraordinary bouleversement which overcame every 
one; the unpreparedness and the panic when there was 
really ample warning ; the rivalry of the warring Lega- 
tions even when they were almost in extremis, and the 
curious course of the whole siege itself owing to the 
division of counsels among the Chinese this last a 
state of affairs which alone saved every one from a 
shameful death. In the second place, this account may 
dispel many false ideas which still obtain in Europe and 
America regarding the position of various Powers in 
China ideas based on data which have long been de- 
clared of no value by those competent to judge. In the 
third place, the vivid and terrible description of the sack 
of Peking by the soldiery of Europe, showing the de- 



2 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

moralisation into which all troops fall as soon as the iron 
hand of discipline is relaxed, may set finally at rest the 
mutual recriminations which have since been levelled 
publicly and privately. Everybody was tarred with the 
same brush. Those arm-chair critics who have been too 
prone to state that brutalities no longer mark the course 
of war may reconsider their words, and remember that 
sacking, with all the accompanying excesses, is still re- 
garded as the divine right of soldiery unless the provost- 
marshal's gallows stand ready. In the fourth place, 
those who still believe that the representatives assigned to 
Eastern countries need only be second-rate men reserv- 
ing for Europe the master-minds may begin to ask 
themselves seriously whether the time has not come 
when only the most capable and brilliant diplomatic 
officials men whose intelligence will help to shape 
events and not be led by them, and who will act with 
iron firmness when the time for such action comes 
should be assigned to such a difficult post as Peking. In 
the fifth place, the strange idea, which refuses to be 
eradicated, that the Chinese showeii themselves in this 
Peking siege once and for all incompetent to carry to 
fruition any military plan, may be somewhat corrected 
by the plain and convincing terms in which the eye- 
witness describes the manner in which they stayed their 
hand whenever it could have slain, and the silent 
struggle which the Moderates of Chinese politics must 
have waged to avert the catastrophe by merely gain- 
ing time and allowing the Desperates to dash them- 
selves to pieces when the inevitable swing of the pendu- 
lum took place. Finally, it will not escape notice that 



FOREWORD 

many remarks borne out all through the narrative tend 
to show that British diplomacy in the Far East was at 
one time at a low ebb. 

Of course the Peking siege has already been amply 
described in many volumes and much magazine litera- 
ture. Dr. Morrison, the famous Peking correspondent 
of the Times; informs me that he has in his library no 
less than forty-three accounts in English alone. The 
majority of these, however, are not as complete or en- 
lightening as they might be ; nor has the extraordinarily 
dramatic nature of the Warning, the Siege, and the 
Sack been shown. Thus few people, outside of a small 
circle in the Far East, have been able to understand 
from such accounts what actually occurred in Peking, or 
to realise the nature of the fighting which took place. 
The two best accounts, Dr. Morrison's own statement 
and the French Minister's graphic report to his govern- 
ment, were both written rather to fix the principal 
events immediately after they had occurred than to 
attempt to probe beneath the surface, or to deal with the 
strictly personal or private side. Nor did they em- 
brace that most remarkable portion of the Boxer year, 
the entire sack of Peking and the extraordinary scenes 
which marked this latter-day Vandalism. A veil has 
been habitually drawn over these little-known events, 
but in the narrative which follows it is boldly lifted for 
the first time. 

The eye-witness whose account follows was careful 
to establish with as much lucidity as possible each phase 
of existence during five months of extraordinary inter- 
est. Much in these notes has had to be suppressed for 



4 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

many reasons, and much that remains may create some 
astonishment. Yet it is well to remember that "one 
eye-witness, however dull and prejudiced, is worth a 
wilderness of sentimental historians." The historians 
are already beginning to arise; these pages may serve 
as a corrective to many erroneous ideas. Perhaps some 
also will allow that this curious tragedy, swept into Pe- 
king and playing madly round the entrenched European 
Legations, has intense human interest still. The vague 
terror which oppressed every one before the storm actu- 
ally burst; the manner in which the feeble chain of 
fighting men were locked round the European lines, and 
suffered grievously but were providentially saved from 
annihilation; the curious way in which diplomacy made 
itself felt from time to time only to disappear as the 
rude shock of events taking place near Tientsin and the 
sea were reflected in Peking; the final coming of the 
strange relief all these points and many others are 
made in such a manner that every one should be able 
to understand and to believe. The description of the 
last act of the upheaval the complete sack of Peking 
shows clearly how the lust for loot gains all men, 
and hand in hand invites such terrible things as whole- 
sale rape and murder. 

The eye-witness attempts to account for all that hap- 
pened; to make real and living the hoarse roll of mus- 
ketry, the savage cries of desperadoes stripped to the 
waist and glistening in their sweat; to give echo to the 
blood-curdling notes of Chinese trumpets; to limn the 
tall mountains of flames licking sky high. If there is fail- 
ure in these efforts, it is due to the editing. 



FOREWORD 5 

The summer of 1900 in Peking will ever remain as 
famous in the annals of the world's history as the 
Indian Mutiny; it was something unique and un- 
paralleled. With the curious movements now at work 
in the Far East, it may not be unwise to study the story 
again. And after Port Arthur these pages may 
show something about which little has been written 
the psychology of the siege. The siege is still the rudest 
test in the world. It is well to know it. 

B. L. PUTNAM WEALE. 

CHINA, June, 1900. 



INDISCREET LETTERS 
FROM PEKING 

PART I - THE WARNING 

I 

FRAGMENTS 

1 2th May, 1900. 



The weather is becoming hot, even here in latitude 
40 and in the month of May. The Peking dust, 
distinguished among all the dusts of the earth for its 
blackness, its disagreeable insistence in sticking to one's 
clothes, one's hair, one's very eyebrows, until a grey- 
brown coating is visible to every eye, is rising in heavier 
clouds than ever. In the market-places, and near the 
great gates of the city, where Peking carts and camels 
from beyond the passes k'ou wai> to use the correct 
vernacular jostle one another, the dust has become 
damnable beyond words, and there can be no health 
possibly in us. The Peking dust rises, therefore, in 
clouds and obscures the very sun at times; for the sun 
always shines here in our Northern China, except dur- 
ing a brief summer rainy season, and a few other days 
you can count on your fingers. The dust is without 
significance, you will say, since it is always there more 
or less. It is in any case healthy ; it chokes you, but is 



8 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

reputed also to choke germs; therefore it is good. All 
of which is true, only this year there is more of it than 
ever, meaning very dry weather indeed for this city, 
hanging near the gates of Mongolian deserts a dry 
weather spelling the devil for the Northern farmer. 

Meanwhile, is there anything special for me to 
chronicle? Not much, although there is a cloud no 
bigger than your hand in Shantung not a thousand miles 
from Weihaiwei, and the German Legation is conse- 
quently somewhat irate. It was noticed at our club, 
for instance, which, by the way, is a humble affair, that 
the German military attache, a gentleman who wears 
bracelets, is somewhat effeminate, and plays vile tennis 
and worse billiards, had a "hostile attitude" towards the 
British Legation that is, such of the British Legation 
as gather together each day at the "ice-shed" 
which happens to be the club's peculiar Chinese 
name. The military attache is somewhat irate, because 
the spectacle of the Weihaiwei regiment, six hundred 
yellow men under twelve white Englishmen, chasing 
malcontents in Shantung, is derogatory to Teutonic 
aspirations. Germany has earmarked Shantung, and 
it is just like English bluntness to remind the would-be 
dominant Power that there is a British sphere and a 
British colony in the Chinese province, as well as a 
German sphere and a German colony. But the German 
Minister, a beau gargon with blue eyes and a handsome 
moustache, says nothing, and is quite calm. 

Meanwhile the cloud no bigger than your hand is 
quite unremarked by the rank and file of Legation Street 
that I will swear. Chinese malcontents "the Society 
of Harmonious Fists," particular habitat Shantung 
province are casually mentioned; but it is remembered 



FRAGMENTS 9 

that the provincial governor of Shantung is a strong 
Chinaman, one Yuan Shih-kai, who has some knowl- 
edge of military matters, and, better still, ten thousand 
foreign-drilled troops. Shantung is all right, never fear 
such is the comment of the day. 

But the political situation the situation politique as 
we call it in our several conversations, which always 
have a diplomatic turn although not grave, is unhappy ; 
everybody at least acknowledges that. Peking has 
never been what it was before the Japanese war. In 
the old days we were all something of a happy family. 
There were merely the eleven Legations, the In- 
spectorate of Chinese Customs, with the aged Sir 

R H at its head, and perhaps a few favoured 

globe-trotters or nondescripts looking for rich conces- 
sions. Picnics and dinners, races and excursions, were 
the order of the day, and politics and political situations 
were not burning. Ministers plenipotentiary and en- 
voys extraordinary wore Terai hats, very old clothes, 
and had an affable air something like what Teheran 
must still be. Then came the Japanese war, and the 
eternal political situation. Russia started the ball roll- 
ing and the others kicked it along. The Russo-Chinese 

Bank appeared on the scenes led by the great P , a 

man with an ominous black portfolio continually under 
his arm, as he hurried along Legation Street, and an in- 
triguing expression always on his dark face a veritable 
master of men and moneys, they say. This intriguing 
soon found expression in the Cassini Convention, de- 
nounced as untrue, and followed by a perfectly open 
and frank Manchurian railway convention, a conven- 
tion which, in spite of its frankness, had future trouble 
written unmistakably on the face of it. Besides these 



10 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

things there were always ominous reports of other 
things of great things being done secretly. 

After the Russo-Chinese Bank and the Manchurian 
railway business, there was the Kiaochow affair, then 
the Port Arthur affair, the Weihaiwei and Kwangchow- 
wan affairs, nothing but "affairs" all tending in the 
same direction the making of a very grave political 
situation. The juniors to-day make fun of it, it is true, 
and greet each other daily with the salutation, "La situa- 
tion politique est ires grave' 9 and laugh at the good 
words. But it is grave notwithstanding the laughter. 
Once in 1899, after the Empress Dowager's coup d'etat 
and the virtual imprisonment of the Emperor, Legation 
Guards had to be sent for, a few files for each of the 
Legations that possess squadrons in the Far East, and, 
what is more, these guards had to stay for a good many 
months. The guards are now no more, but it is curious 
that the men they came mainly to protect us against 
Tung Fu-hsiang's Mohammedan braves from the sav- 
age back province of Kansu who love the reactionary 
Empress Dowager are still encamped near the North- 
ern capital. 

The old Peking society has therefore vanished, and 
in its place are highly suspicious and hostile Legations 
Legations petty in their conceptions of men and things 
Legations bitterly disliking one another in fact, Lega- 
tions richly deserving all they get, some of the cynics 
say. 

The Peking air, as I have already said, is highly 
electrical and unpleasant in these hot spring days with 
the dust rising in heavy clouds. Squabbling and can- 
tankerous, rather absurd and petty, the Legations are 
spinning their little threads, each one hedged in by high 



FRAGMENTS 11 

walls in its own compound and by the debatable ques- 
tion of the situation politique. 

Outside and around us roars the noise of the Tartar 
city. At night the noise ceases, for the inner and outer 
cities are closed to one another by great gates; but at 
midnight the gates are opened by sleepy Manchu guards 
for a brief ten minutes, so that gorgeous red and blue- 
trapped carts, drawn by sleek mules, may speed into the 
Imperial City for the Daybreak Audience with the 
Throne. These conveyances contain the high officials of 
the Empire. It has been noticed by a Legation stroller 
on the Wall the Tartar Wall that the number of 
carts passing in at midnight is far greater than usual; 
that the guards of the city gates now and again stop 
and question a driver. It is nothing. 

Meanwhile the dust rises in clouds. It is very dry this 
year that is all. 



II 

MUTTERINGS 

24th May, 1900. 



We are beginning to call them Boxers grudgingly 
and sometimes harking back and giving them their 
full name, "Society of Harmonious Fists," or the "Right- 
eous Harmony Fist Society"; but still a beginning has 
been made, and they are becoming Boxers by the in- 
evitable process of shortening which distinguishes 
speech. 

We have been talking about them a good deal to-day, 
these Boxers, since it has been the birthday of her most 
excellent Majesty Queen Victoria, and the British Lega- 
tion has been en fete. Her Majesty's Minister, in fine, 
has been entertaining us in the vast and princely gar- 
dens of the British Legation at his own expense. Weird 
Chinese lanterns have been lighted in the evening and 
slung around the grounds ; champagne has been flowing 
with what effervescence it could muster ; the eleven Lega- 
tions and the nondescripts have forgotten their cares 
for a brief space and have been enjoying the evening 

air and the music of Sir R H 's Chinese band. 

Looking at lighted lanterns, drinking champagne cup, 
listening to a Chinese band where the devil is the 
protocol and the political situation, you will say? Not 
quite forgotten, since the French Minister attracted the 
attention of many all the evening by his vehement man- 



MUTTERINGS 13 

ner. I pushed up once, too, and with a polite bow lis- 
tened to what he was saying. Ah, the old words, the 
eternal words, the political situation, or the situation 
politique, whichever way you like to use them. But still 
you listen a bit, for it is droll to hear the yet unaccus- 
tomed word Boxers in French. "Les Boxeurs/' he says; 
and what the French Minister says is always worth lis- 
tening to, since he has the best Intelligence corps in the 
world the Catholic priests of China at his disposal. 

Curiously enough, he was speaking of the arch-priest 
of priests, renowned above all others in this Peking 

world, Monseigneur F , Vicar Apostolic of the 

Manchu capital almost Vicar of God to countless thou- 
sands of dark-yellow converts. It is Monseigneur 

F J s letter of the igth May, written but five days 

ago, and already locally famous through leakage, which 
was the subject-matter of his impromptu oration. Mon- 
seigneur F wrote and demanded a guard of 

marines for his cathedral, his people and his chattels 
quarante ou cinquante marins pour proteger nos per- 
sonnes et nos biens, were his exact words, and his re- 
quest has been cruelly refused by the Council of Minis- 
ters on the ground that it is absurd. The Vicar Apos- 
tolic, however, gave his grounds for making such a de- 
mand calmly and logically depicted the damage 
already done by an anti-foreign and revolutionary 
movement in the districts not a thousand miles from 
Peking, and solemnly forecasted what was soon to hap- 
pen- . . . 

The French Minister was irate and raised his fat 
hands above his fat person, took a discreet look around 
him, and then hinted that it was this Legation, the Brit- 
ish Legation, which stopped the marines from coming. 



14 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

The French Minister was quite irate, and after his 
discourse was ended he slipped quietly away possibly 
to send some more telegrams. The crumbs of his con- 
versation were soon gathered up and distributed and 
the conviviality somewhat damped. As yet, however, 
the Boxers are only laughed at and are not taken quite 
seriously. They have killed native Christians, it is true, 
and it has been proved conclusively now that it was they 
who murdered Brooks, the English missionary in Shan- 
tung. But Englishmen are cheap, since there is a glut 
in the home market, and their government merely gets 
angry with them when they get into trouble and are 
killed. So many are always getting killed in China. 

So the Boxers, with half the governments of Europe, 
led by England, as we know by our telegrams, seeking 
to minimise their importance in fact, trying to stifle 
the movement by ignoring it or lavishing on it their 
supreme contempt have already moved from their 
particular habitat, which is Shantung, into the metro- 
politan province of Chihli. Already they are in some 
force at Chochou, only seventy miles to the southeast 
of Peking always massacring, always advancing, and 
driving in bodies of native Christians before them on 
their march. Nobody cares very much, however, ex- 
cept a vicar apostolic, who urgently requests forty or 
fifty marines or sailors "to protect our persons and our 
chattels." Foolish bishop he is, is he not, when Chris- 
tians have been expressly born to be massacred? Does 
he not know his history ? 

Lead on, blind ministers plenipotentiary and envoys 
extraordinary; lead on, with your eternal political situa- 
tions in embryo, your eternal political situations that 
have not yet hatched out; while one that is more preg- 



MUTTERINGS 15 

nant than any you have ever conceived is already born 
under your very noses and is being sniffed at by you. 
But no matter what happens outside, Peking is safe, 
that is your dictum, and the dictum of the day. So, 
yawning and somewhat tired of the evening's convivial- 
ities, we go our several ways home, in our Peking carts 
and our official chairs, and are soon lost in sleep 
dreaming, perhaps, that we have been too long in this 
dry Northern climate, and that it is really affecting 



one's nerves. 



Ill 

OVERCAST SKIES 

28th May, 1900. 



It is only four days since we discussed the Vicar Apos- 
tolic's letter, and laughed somewhat at French ex- 
citability ; but in four days what a change ! The cloud 
no bigger than your hand is now bigger than your whole 
body, bigger, indeed, than the combined bodies of all 
your neighbours, supposing you could spread them fan- 
tastically in great layers across the skies. What, then, 
has happened ? 

It is that the Boxers, christened by us, as you will 
remember, but two or three short weeks ago, have blos- 
somed forth with such fierce growth that they have 
become the men of the hour to the exclusion of every- 
thing else, and were one to believe one tithe of the 
talk babbling all around, the whole earth is shaking 
with them. Yet it is a very local affair a thing con- 
cerning only a tiny portion of a half-known corner of 
the world. But for us it is sufficiently grave. The 
Peking-Paotingfu railway is being rapidly destroyed; 
Fengtai station, but six miles from Peking think of 
it, only six miles from this Manchu holy of holies has 
gone up in flames; a great steel bridge has succumbed 
to the destroying energy of dynamite. All the Euro- 
pean engineers have fled into Peking; and, worst of all, 
the Boxer banners have been unfurled; and lo and be- 



OVERCAST SKIES 17 

hold, as they floated in the breeze, the four dread char- 
acters, "Pao Ch'ing Mien Yang," have been read on 
blood-red bunting "Death and destruction to the 
foreigner and all his works and loyal support to the 
great Ching dynasty." 

Is that sufficiently enthralling, or should I add that 
the invulnerability of the Boxer has been officially and 
indisputably tested by the Manchus, according to the 
gossip of the day? Proceeding to the Boxer camp at 
Chochou, duly authorised officers of the Crown have 
seen recruits, who have performed all the dread rites, 
and are initiated, stand fearlessly in front of a full- 
fledged Boxer; have seen that Boxer load up his blun- 
derbuss with powder, ramming down a wad on top; 
have witnessed a handful of iron buckshot added, but 
with no wad to hold the charge in place ; have noticed 
that the master Boxer gesticulated with his lethal 
weapon the better to impress his audience before he 
fired, but have not noticed that the iron buckshot tripped 
merrily out of the rusty barrel since no wad held it in 
place; and finally, when the fire-piece belched forth 
flames and ear-breaking noise at a distance of a man's 
body from the recruit's person, they have seen, and with 
them thousands of others, that no harm came. It is 
astounding, miraculous, but it is true; henceforth, the 
Boxer is officially invulnerable and must remain so as 
long as the ground is parched. That is what our Chi- 
nese reports say. 

There are myriads of men already in camp and 
myriads more speeding on their way to this Chochou 
camp of camps, while in village and hamlet local com- 
mittees of public safety against the accursed foreigner 
and all his works are being quite naturally evolved, and 



18 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

red cloth that sign manual of revolt is already at a 
premium. The whole province of Chihli is shaking; 
North China will soon be in flames ; any one with half 
a nose can smell rebellion in the air. . . . 

This is one side of the picture, the side which friendly 
Chinese are painting for us. Yet when you glance at 
the eleven Legations, placidly living their own little lives, 
you will see them cynically listening to these old 
women's tales, while at heart they secretly wonder what 
political capital each of them can separately make out 
of the whole business, so that their governments may 
know that Peking has clever diplomats. Clever diplo- 
mats ! There have been no clever diplomats in Peking 

since G of the French Legation took his departure, 

and that purring Slav P went to Seoul. 

Of course Peking is safe, that goes without saying; 
but merely because there are foolish women and chil- 
dren, some nondescripts, and a good many missionaries, 
we will order a few guards. This, at least, has just been 
decided by the Council of Ministers a rather foolish 
council, without backbone, excepting one man. All 
the afternoon everybody was occupied in telegraphing 
the orders and reports of the day, and these actions are 
now beyond recall. 

Guards have been ordered from the ships lying out 
at the Taku bar. The guards will soon be here, and 
when they have come the movement will cease. Thus 
have the eleven Legations spoken, each telegraphing a 
different tale to its government, and each more than an- 
noyed by this jojnt action. Incidentally each one is 
secretly wondering what is going to happen, and 
whether there is really any danger. 

It has been directly telegraphed from London by 



OVERCAST SKIES 19 

Her Majesty's Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Lord 
Salisbury, so gossip says, that as quite enough has been 
heard of this Boxer business it must cease at once. Is 
not the South African War still proceeding, and has 
England not enough troubles without this additional 
one? It is almost pathetic, this peremptory order from 
a vacillating Foreign Office that never knows its own 
mind this Canute-like bidding of the angry waves of 
human men to stand still at once and be no more heard 
of. People in Europe will never quite understand the 
East, for the East is ruled by things which are impos- 
sible in a temperate climate. 

Meanwhile, in the Palace, whose pink walls we see 
blinking at us in the sun just beyond Legation Street, 
all is also topsy-turvy, the Chinese reports say. The 
Empress Dowager, shrewdly listening to this person 
and that, must feel in her own bones that it is a bad 
business, and that it will not end well, for she under- 
stands dynastic disasters uncommonly well. She has 
sent again and again for P'i Hsiao-li, " Cobbler' s-wax" 
Li, as he is called, the reputed false eunuch who is mas- 
ter of her inner counsels, if Chinese small talk is to be 
believed. The eunuch Li has been told earnestly to find 
out the truth and nothing but the truth. A passionate 
old woman, this Empress Dowager of China, a veri- 
table Catherine of Russia in her younger days they say, 
with her hot Manchu blood and her lust for ruling men. 
"Cobbler 7 s-wax" Li, son of a cobbler and falsely emas- 
culated, they say, so that he might become an eunuch 
of the Palace, from which lowly estate he has blossomed 
into the real power behind the Throne, hastens off once 
more to the palace of Prince Tuan, the father of the 
titular heir-apparent. As Prince Tuan's discretion has 



20 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

long since been cast to the winds, and Lao t'uan-yeh, or 
spiritual Boxer chiefs, now sit at the princely banquet- 
ing tables discussing the terms on which they will rush 
the Tartar city with their flags unfurled and their yell- 
ing forces behind them, a foolish and irresolute govern- 
ment, made up of the most diverse elements, and a 
rouge-smirched Empress Dowager, will then have to 
side with them or be begulfed too. Anxiously listen- 
ing, "Cobbler's-wax" Li weighs the odds, for no fool 
is this false eunuch, who through his manly charms 
leads an Empress who in turn leads an empire. Half 
suspicious and wholly unconvinced, he questions and de- 
mands the exact number of invulnerables that can be 
placed in line; and is forthwith assured, with braggart 
Chinese choruses, that they are as locusts, that the whole 
earth swarms with them, that the movement is uncon- 
querable. Still unconvinced, the false eunuch takes his 
departure, and then the Throne decrees and counter de- 
crees^n agonised Edicts. It is noticed, too, that the dis- 
tributors of the official organ, the Peking Gazette, no 
longer staidly walk their rounds, pausing to gossip with 
their friends, but run with their wooden-block printed 
Edicts wet from the presses, and shout indiscreetly to 
the passers-by, "Aside, our business is important." In 
all faith there is something in this movement. It is also 
noticed that roughness and rudeness are growing in the 
streets; little things that are always the precursors ojf 
the coming storm in the East are freely indulged in, 
and "foreign devil" is now almost a chorus. The at- 
mosphere is obviously unwholesome, but guards have 
been ordered and it will soon be well. All these other 
things of which I speak are merely native reports. . . . 
Meanwhile each Legation does not forget its dignity, 



OVERCAST SKIES 21 

but walks stolidly alone. Alone in front of the French 
Legation is there some commotion almost hourly. It is, 
however, only the arrival and departure of Catholic 
priests posting to and from the Pei-t'ang about that 
little business of forty or fifty marines pour proteger nos 
personnes et nos biens, that is all. A singularly im- 
portunate fellow this Monseigneur F , our most rev- 
erend Vicar Apostolic of the Manchu capital* 



IV 

OUR GUARDS ARRIVE 

3 ist May, 1900. 



We had been dining out, a number of us, this evening, 
with result that the good wine and the good fare, for 
the Peking markets are admirable, left us reasonably 
content and in quite a valorous spirit. The party I was 
at was neither very large nor very small ; we were eigh- 
teen, to be exact, and the political situation was repre- 
sented in all its gravity by the presence of a 
Minister and his spouse. The former has always been 
pessimistic, and so we had Boxers for soup, Boxers with 
the entrees y and Boxers to the end. In fact, if the truth 
be told, the Boxers surrounded us in a constant vapour 
of words so formidable that one might well have reason 

to be alarmed. P , the Minister, was, indeed, very 

talkative and gesticulative ; his wife was sad and sighed 
constantly elle poussait des sottpirs tristes at the 
lurid spectacle her husband's words conjured up. Ac- 
cording to him, anything was possible. There might 
be sudden massacres in Peking itself the Chinese Gov- 
ernment had gone mad. Rendered more and more talk- 
ative by the wine and the good fare, he became alarm- 
ing, menacing in the end. But we became more and 
more valiant as we ate and drank. That is always so. 

It was all the guards' fault. Telegrams despatched 
in the morning from Tientsin distinctly told us that the 



OUR GUARDS ARRIVE 23 

guards were entraining; later news said the guards 
had actually started; and yet when we were almost 
through dinner, and it was nearly ten o'clock, there was 
not a sign of them. That was the distressing point, and 
in the end, as it thrust itself more and more on people's 
attention, the first great valour began to ooze. For al- 
though the Guardian of the Nine Gates a species of 
Manchu warden or grand constable of Peking has 
been officially warned that foreign guards, whose 
arrival has been duly authorised by the Tsung-li Yamen, 
may be a little late, and that consequently the Ch'ien 
Men, or the Middle Gate, should be kept open a couple 
of hours longer, the chief guardian may become nervous 
and irate and incontinently shut the gates. This alone 
might provoke an outbreak. 

This train of thought once started, we busily fol- 
lowed it up, and soon all the wives were sighing in 
unison more heavily than ever. I shall always remem- 
ber what happened at that psychological moment, 
A strip of red-lined native writing-paper was placed in 
somebody's hands with a long list of the different de- 
tachments which had just passed in through the Main 
Gate. At last the guards had arrived. Speedily we be- 
came very valorous again. P afterwards said that 

he knew something which he had not dared to tell any 
one not even his secretaries. 

From this little list, it was soon clear that the British, 
French, Russian, American, Italian, and Japanese de- 
tachments had arrived. The Germans and the 
Austrians were missing, but we concluded that they 
would arrive by another train within very few hours. 
The important point was that men had been allowed to 
come through that the Chinese Government, in spite 



24 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

of its enormous capacity for mischief, could not yet 
have made up its mind how to act. That consoled us. 

After this, a faint-hearted attempt was made to con- 
tinue our talk. But it was no good. We soon dis- 
covered that each one of us had been simulating a false 
interest in our never-ending discussion. We really 
wished to see with our own eyes these Legation Guards 
who might still save the situation. 

Strolling out in the warm night, just as we were, we 
first came on them In the French Legation. The French 
detachment were merely sailors belonging to what they 
call their Compagnies de debarquement, and they were 
all brushing each other down and cursing the sacree 
poussiere. Such a leading motif has this Peking dust 
become that the very sailors notice it. Also we found 
two priests from Monseigneur F 's Cathedral, sit- 
ting in the garden and patiently waiting for the Minis- 
ter's return. I heard afterwards that they would not 

move until P decided that twenty-five sailors 

should march the next day to the Cathedral in fact at 
daylight. 

In all the Legations I found it was much the same 
thing the men of the various detachments were brush- 
ing each other down and exchanging congratulations 
that they had been picked for Peking service. It was, 
perhaps, only because they were so glad to be allotted 
shore-duty after interminable service afloat off China's 
muddy coasts that they congratulated one another; but 
it might be also because they had heard tell throughout 
the fleets that the men who had come in '98, after the 
coup d'elat, had had the finest time which could be 
imagined all loafing and no duties. They did not 
seem to understand or suspect. . . , 



OUR GUARDS ARRIVE 25 

I found later in the night that there had actually been 
a little trouble at the Tientsin station. The British had 
tried to get through a hundred marines instead of the 
maximum of seventy-five which had been agreed on. 
The Chinese authorities had then refused to let the 
train go, and although an English ship's captain had 
threatened to hang the station-master, in the end the 
point was won by the Chinese. By one or two in the 
morning everybody was very gay, walking about and 
having drinks with one another, and saying that it was 
all right now. Then it was that I remembered that it 
was already June the historic month which has seen 
more crises than any other and I became a little 
gloomy again. It was so terribly sultry and dry that it 
seemed as if anything could happen. I felt convinced 
that the guards were too few. 



V 

THE PLOT THICKENS 

4th June, 1900. 



No matter in what light you look at it, you realise 
that somehow in some wonderful, inexplicable 
manner normal conditions have ceased long ago in 
the month of May, I believe. The days, which a couple 
of weeks ago had but twenty-four hours, have now at 
least forty-two. You cannot exactly say why this 
strange state of affairs obtains, for as yet there is noth- 
ing very definite to fix upon, and you have absolutely no 
physical sensation of fear; but the mercury of both the 
barometer and the thermometer has been somehow 
badly shaken, and the mainsprings of all watches and 
clocks, although still much as the mainsprings of clocks 
and watches in other parts of the world bringing your 
mind to bear on it you know they are exactly the same 
are merely mechanism, and allow the day to have at 
least forty-two hours. It is strange, is it not, and you 
begin to understand vaguely some of the quite impossi- 
ble Indian metaphysics which tell you gravely that what 
is is not, and that what is not can still be. ... In 
the crushing heat you can understand that. 

Perhaps it is all because the hours are now split into 
ten separate and different parts by the fierce rumours 
which rage for a few minutes and then, dissipating their 
strength through their very violence, die away as sud- 



THE PLOT THICKENS 27 

denly as they came. The air is charged with electricity 
of human passions until it throbs painfully, and 

then You are merrily eating your tiffin or your 

dinner, and quite calmly cursing your "boy" because 
something is not properly iced. Your "boy," who is a 
Bannerman or Manchu and of Roman Catholic family, 
as are all servants of polite Peking society, does not 
move a muscle nor show any passing indignation, as he 
would were the ordinary rules and regulations of life 
still in existence. He, like every one of the hundreds 
of thousands of Peking and the millions of North 
China, is waiting waiting more patiently than im- 
patient Westerners, but waiting just as anxiously ; wait- 
ing with ear wide open to every rumour; waiting with 
an eye on every shadow to know whether the storm 
is going to break or blow away. There is something dis- 
concerting, startling, unseemly in being waited on by 
those who you know are in turn waiting on battle, mur- 
der, and sudden death. You feel that something may 
come suddenly at any moment, and though you do not 
dare to speak your thoughts to your neighbour, these 
thoughts are talking busily to you without a second's in- 
terruption. For if this storm truly comes, it must sweep 
everything before it and blot us all out in a horrible 
way. Our servants tell us so. 

These servants of polite Peking society are favoured 
mortals, for they one and all are of the Eight Banners, 
direct descendants of the Manchu conquerors of China. 
And, strangely enough, although they are thus directly 
tied to the Manchu dynasty, and that some of them may 
be even Red Girdles or lineal descendants of collateral 
branches of the Imperial house, they are still more 
tightly tied to the foreigner because they are Roman 



28 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Catholic dating from the early days of Verbiest and 
Schall, when the Jesuits were all supreme. On Sun- 
days and feast days they all proceed to the Vicar Apos- 
tolic's own northern cathedral, and witness the Eleva- 
tion of the Host to the discordant and strange sound 
of Chinese firecrackers, a curious accompaniment, in- 
deed, permitted only by Catholic complacency. This 
they love more than the Throne. 

Your Bannerman servant is now the medium 
of bringing in countless rumours which he barefacedly 
alleges are facts, and in impressing on you that every 
one must certainly die unless we quickly act. The three 
Roman Catholic Cathedrals of Peking, placed at three 
points of the compass, are almost strategic centres sur- 
rounded by whole lanes and districts of Catholics cap- 
tured to the tenets of Christ, or that portion deemed suf- 
ficient for yellow men, in ages gone by. Every house- 
hold of these people during the past few weeks has seen 
fellow-religionists from the country places running in 
sorely distressed in body and mind, and but ill-equipped 
in money and means for this impromptu escape to the 
capital which every one vainly hopes generally is to be a 
sanctuary. The refugees, it is true, do not receive all 
the sympathy they expect, for the Peking Catholic being 
the oldest and most mature in the eighteen provinces of 
China, holds his head very high, and "new people" 
that is, those whose families have only been baptized, let 
us say, during the nineteenth century are somewhat dis- 
dained. In a word, the Peking cathedrals and their 
Manchu and other adherents are the Blacks; and not 
even in papal Rome could this aristocracy in religion 
be excelled. But although the newcomers are disdained, 
their news is not. Everything they say is believed. 



THE PLOT THICKENS 29 

The servants, therefore, browsing rumours wherever 
they go, bring back a curious hotchpotch after each 
separate excursion. Sometimes the balance swings this 
way, sometimes that; sometimes it is ominously black, 
sometimes only cloudy. You never know what it will be 
ten minutes hence, and you must content yourself as best 
you can. Your body-servant being a Bannerman (my 
particular one is a Manchu), and being reasonably 
young, is also a reservist of the Peking Field Force, and 
consorts with other Bannermen who may be actually 
on guard at one of the Palace gates. Who passes in and 
who passes out of the Palace now spreads like wildfire 
round the whole city, for the success of the Boxers will 
depend upon the support the Peking Government in- 
tends to give them when the worst comes to the worst 
And the Peking Government is still fencing, because 
the Palace cannot make up its mind whether the time 
has really come when it must act. This lack of decision 
is fatal. 

Late in the afternoon it transpired that the Empress 
Dowager was not in the Imperial city at all, but out at 
the Summer Palace on the Wan-shou-shan the hills 
of ten thousand ages, as these are poetically called. 
Tung Fu-hsiang, whose ruffianly Kansu braves were 
marched out of the Chinese city that is the outer ring 
of Peking two nights before the Legation Guards 
came in, is also with the Empress, for his cavalry ban- 
ners, made of black and blue velvet, with blood-red 
characters splashed splendidly across them, have been 
seen planted at the foot of the hills. Tung Fu-hsiang is 
an invincible one, who stamped out the Kansu rebellion 
a few years ago with such fierceness that his name strikes 
terror to-day into every Chinese heart. As for P'i 



30 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Hsiaoo-li the false eunuch he is everywhere, they 
say, sometimes here, sometimes there, and quite 
defying search. The eunuch has a mighty for- 
tune at stake, and all natives believe that he will betray 
himself. Half the pawnshops and banks of Peking be- 
long to him, and he will not sacrifice his thirty million 
taels until he is convinced that his head is at stake. The 
Summer Palace lies but a dozen miles beyond Peking's 
embattled walls, and from the top, straining your eyes 
to the west, you can vaguely see the Empress's 
plaisaunce. A journey in and out is nothing by cart, and 
this favoured eunuch has the best mules in the Empire 
black jennets fifteen hands high and is using them 
night and day. And so every one is asking again and 
again whether the Empress has arranged with Prince 
Tuan, since that is the burning question; and did this 
eunuch of eunuchs have his fateful confidential interview 
with the secret Boxer leaders, which was to decide finally 
on extermination. 

The families of other palace eunuchs say yes, and the 
wife of one eunuch, living near the South Cathedral, is 
quite positive, my servants inform me. Wife of a 
eunuch, did I say? You will think me mad, but it is 
nevertheless true, for Chinese eunuchs have wives. Why 
have they wives, you will ask, since they are only half 
men, and cannot perform the duties of the male ? Well, 
I can only answer as did my teacher once when I asked 
him years ago. "Eunuchs are still men," he said, smil- 
ing doubtfully, "insomuch as they like homes of their 
own beyond the Palace walls and desire children to play 
with. Since their wives can bear no children they buy 
children from poor people, and these duly become their 
own. Thus when the eunuch dies he has children to 



THE PLOT THICKENS 31 

worship at his grave." In this land of mystery even 
eunuchs can correctly become ancestors. Yet this is a 
trivial detail which I should not speak of. 

So the eunuch's wife living near the South Cathedral, 
who gossips with her Black Catholic neighbours, and 
whose gossip gives me news many times a day, avers 
most positively that the chief eunuch has been in town 
that the whole matter has been decided and that every 
foreigner will die. And very late in the evening my 
Manchu servant rushed in on me with his eyes sparkling 
strangely, and his voice so hoarse with excitement that he 
did not speak, but shouted. "Master," he cried, "I have 
seen myself this time; three long carts full of swords 
and spears have passed in from the outer city through 
the Ha-ta Gate. The city guards stopped and ques- 
tioned the drivers then let them go. They had a pass 
from the Governor of Peking, and the people all say it is 
now coming." Now do you wonder about our clocks 
and our watches, and our time? Nothing can ever be 
normal again until this terrible question is solved. 



VI 

THE LICKING FLAMES APPROACH 

9th June, 1900. 



It is getting desperate, of that there is now no shadow 
of doubt. The Tientsin trains that have been 
lately running more and more slowly and irregularly, as 
if they, too, were waiting on the pleasure of the coming 
storm, are going to run no more, and the odds are heav- 
ily against to-day's train ever reaching its destination. It 
is true these trains have long ceased running as far as we 
are personally concerned, for the weariness of living 
forty-two hours during twenty-four dulls one's percep- 
tion of everything excepting one's immediate surround- 
ings. And even one's surroundings are somehow shrink- 
ing until they will soon be but the four walls of a court- 
yard. But about the trains why are they stopping? 
Because the licking flames are approaching so near that 
they will soon overwhelm all who are concerned with the 
running of trains unless they disappear very nimbly. 
One of the Chinese railway managers, an educated man 
in the Western sense who can quote Shakespeare, has 
been all over Legation Street yesterday and to-day, point- 
ing out the hopelessness of the general position and al- 
most openly urging the Legations to call on Europe to 
take steps. General Nieh, an intelligent general, with 
foreign-drilled troops, has indeed been fitfully ordered 
by Imperial Edict to "protect the railway," and to keep 
communication open, but this order has already come to 



THE LICKING FLAMES APPROACH 33 

nothing, and the position is worse than it was before. 
His troops, merely desirous of testing their brand-new 
Mausers, and as calmly cruel as only Easterns can be, 
did open a heavy fire a day or two ago on some Boxer 
marauders who had strayed into a station on the 
Tientsin-Peking line, and proposed to crucify the native 
station-master and beat all others, who were indirectly 
eating the foreign devils' rice by working on the railway, 
into lumps of jelly. General Nieh's men let their rifles 
crash off, not because their sympathies were against the 
Boxers, but probably because every living man armed 
with a rifle loves to fire at another living man when he 
can do so without harm to himself. This is my brutal 
explanation. But in any case these soldiers have now 
been marched off in semi-disgrace to their camp at Lutai, 
a few miles to the north of Tientsin, and told never to do 
such rash and indiscreet things again. That means the 
end of any attempts to control. For the Boxer partisans 
in Peking allege that the soldiers actually hit and killed 
a good many men, which is quite without precedent, and 
is upsetting all plans. On such occasions it is always 
understood that you fire a little in the air, warwhoop a 
good deal, and then come back quietly to camp with cap- 
tured flags and banners as undeniable evidences of your 
victory. This has been the old method of making do- 
mestic war in China the only one. 

But all this is many miles from the sacred capital. 
The cry is still that we of Peking are safe, and that even 
if this is to be a true rebellion we cannot be hurt. The 
cry, however, is not so lusty as it was even three or four 
days ago, and, indeed, has only become an official cry 
that is, one you are permitted to contradict privately 
when you meet your dear colleagues in the street and 



34 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

wonder aloud what is really going to happen. In the 
despatches Peking Is still quite safe, although unwhole- 
some. Yet our own private political situations, of 
which we were so proud and talked so vauntingly, 
have all now disappeared, miserable things, and 
are quite lost and forgotten. No one cares to talk about 
them. People merely say that all business is temporarily 
suspended ; that we must wait and merely mark time. 

But we discovered something worth knowing at the last 
moment to-day which is, without any doubt, true. The 
Empress Dowager returned to-day from the Summer 
Palace, and is now actually in the Forbidden City. We 
are at a loss to know exactly as yet what this means, and 
whether it is an augury of good or of bad. The Winter 
Palace is so near us ; it is just to the west of us. The fact 
that the redoubtable Tung Fu-hsiang rode behind his 
Imperial mistress with his banner-bearers flaunting their 
colours and his trumpets blaring as loudly as possible is, 
however, not very reassuring. It seemed like defiance 
and treachery. 

But at first, in spite of the Empress's entry, there 
were not many rumours accompanying her; in the late 
afternoon they came so thick and fast that no one had 
time to write them down. But of rumours we have had 
more than our bellyful. Let me tell some of the facts. 

First and foremost. The racecourse grand-stand 
where less than a month ago we were all watching the 
struggles for victory between our various short-legged 
p'onies, has gone up in flames and puff just like that 
the social battle-ground is no more. The Boxers, for 
everybody who does anything nowadays is a Boxer, tried 
to grill our official caretakers on the red-hot bricks, but 
the neighbouring village came to the rescue and shouted 



THE LICKING FLAMES APPROACH 35 

the marauders out of the place. That is the nearest 
danger which has been heard of. Immediately after this 
some Legation students, riding out on the sands under 
the Tartar Wall, were openly attacked by spear-armed 
men, and only escaped by galloping furiously and firing 
the revolvers which every one now carries. Most im- 
portant of all, however, to us is that aged Sir R 

H is hauling down his colours, and has been rapidly 

calling in all his scattered staff who live near the premises 
of the Tsung-li Yamen China's Foreign Office. Here 
we are, the Legations of all Europe, with five hundred 
sailors and marines cleaning their rifles and marking out 
distances in the capital of a so-called friendly Power; 
with our pro forma despatches still being despatched 
while our real messages are frightened; attempting to 
weather a storm which the Chinese Government is pow- 
erless to arrest. The very passers-by are becoming sheep- 
eyed and are looking at us askance. 

Passers-by, did I say? But do not imagine from this 
that there are many of these, for the Chinese have been 
for days avoiding the Legation quarter as if it were 
plague-stricken, and sounds that were so roaring a few 
weeks ago are now daily becoming more and more 
scarce. A blight is settling on us, for we are accursed 
by the whole population of North China, and who knows 
what will be the fate of those seen lurking near the 
foreigner? 

And now when we wander even in our own streets 
that is, those abutting immediately on our compounds 
of the Legation area a new nickname salutes our ears. 
No longer are we mere yang kuei-tzu, foreign devils; 
we have risen to the proud estate of ta mao-tzu, or long- 
haired ones of the first class. Mao-tzu is a term of some 



36 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

contemptuous strength, since mao is the hair of animals, 
and our barbarian heads are not even shaved. The ta 
great or first class is also significant, because behind 
our own detested class press two others deserving of 
almost equal contempt at the hands of all believers in 
divine Boxerism. These are ehr-mao-tzu and san mao- 
tzu, second and third class coarse-haired ones. All good 
converts belong to the second class, and death awaits 
them, our servants say; while as to the third category, 
all having any sort of connection, direct or indirect, with 
the foreigner and his works are lumped indiscriminately 
together in this one, and should be equally detested. The 
small talk of the tea-shops now even says that officials 
having a few sticks of European furniture in their houses 
are san mao~tzu. It is very significant, too, this open 
talk in the tea-shops, because in official Peking, the very 
centre of the enormous, loose-jointed Empire, political 
gossip is severely disliked and the four characters, "mo 
fan kuo shih" (eschew political discussions), are skied 
in every public room. People in the old days of last 
month heeded this four-character warning, for a barn- 
booing at the nearest police-station, ting erh, was always 
a possibility. Now every one can do as he likes. 

It is, therefore, becoming patent to the most blind that 
this is going to be something startling, something 
eclipsing any other anti-foreign movement ever 
heard of, because never before have the users 
of foreign imports and the mere friends of for- 
eigners been labelled in a class just below that of the 
foreigners themselves. And then as it became dark to- 
day, a fresh wave of excitement broke over the city and 
produced almost a panic. The main body of Tung Fu- 
hsiang's savage Kansu braves that is, his whole army 



THE LICKING FLAMES APPROACH 37 

re-entered the capital and rapidly encamped on the 
open places in front of the Temples of Heaven and Agri- 
culture in the outer ring of Peking. This settled it, I 
am glad to say. At last all the Legations shivered, and 
urgent telegrams were sent to the British admiral for 
reinforcements to be rushed up at all costs. 

But too late too late ; the Manchu servants who have 
friends among the guards at the Palace gates have 
said this all the evening. For the Chinese Colossus, lum- 
bering and lazy, sluggish and ill-equipped, has raised 
himself on his elbow, and with sheep-like and calculating 
eyes is looking down on us a pigmy-like collection of 
foreigners and their guards and soon will risk a kick 
perhaps even will trample us quickly to pieces. How bit- 
terly every one is regretting our false confidence, and 
how our chiefs are being cursed ! 



VII 

THE CITY OF PEKING AND ALL ITS GLORIES 

nth June, 1900. 



You do not know this Capital of Capitals, perhaps 
that is, you do not know it as you should if the scenes 
which may presently move -across the ptage, now in shout- 
ing crowds of sword-armed men, now in pitiable inci- 
dents of small account, are to be properly understood, 
and their dramatic setting, stirring, blood-thrilling, in- 
congruous as they must be and can only be. I feel that 
something will come I even know it. I have been 
talking vaguely about this and about that; have begun 
preparing colours, as it were, in the usual careless 
fashion without explanations or digressions until you 
possibly wonder what it is all about. For you have not 
yet seen the barbaric frame which will hedge in the whole 
the barbaric frame in all truth, since it is gradually 
closing in on us on every side until, like some mediaeval 
torture-room, we may have the very life crushed out of 
us by a cruel pressure. But enough of fine phrases ; while 
there is time let me write something. 

Peking is at least two thousand years old. Several 
hundred years before Christ, they say a Chinese kingdom 
made the present site the capital, and began building 
the outer walls ; but the Chinese, the gentler Chinese who 
had all military spirit crushed out of them five thousand 
years before by having to tramp from Mesopotamia to 



CITY OF PEKING AND ALL ITS GLORIES 39 

where they now are in the eighteen provinces, these Chi- 
nese, I say, never had in Peking anything but a tempo- 
rary trysting-place. For Peking stands for a sort of blat- 
ant barbarianism, mounted on sturdy ponies, pouring in 
from the far North; and the history of Peking can only 
be said to begin when Mongol-Tartars, who have always 
been freebooters and robbers, forced their way in and 
imposed their militarism on a nation of shopkeepers and 
collectors of taxes. 

Even before the Christian era, the Chinese chronicles 
tell of the pressure of these fierce barbarians from the 
North being so much felt and their raids so constant, that 
Chi Huang-ti, the ruler of the powerful Chinese feuda- 
tory state which laid the foundations of the present Em- 
pire of China, began to build the Great Wall of China 
and to fortify old Peking as the only means of stopping 
these living waves. The Great Wall took ages to build, 
for the Northern barbarians always kept cunningly slip- 
ping round the uncompleted ends, and the Mings, the 
last purely Chinese sovereigns to reign in Peking, actu- 
ally added three hundred miles to this colossal structure 
in the year 1547, or nearly two thousand years after the 
first bricks had been cemented. That shows you what 
people they were, and what the contest was. 

For hundreds of years the war with the semi-nomadic 
hordes of the North continued. Sometimes isolated bands 
of Tartars broke through the Chinese defence and en- 
slaved the people, but never for very long ; instinctively 
by the use of every stratagem the cleverer Chinese com- 
passed their destruction. While Attila and his Huns 
were ravaging Europe in the fifth century, other 
Hwingnoo, or Huns, veritable scourges of God, forced 
their way into China. In this fashion, while China itself 



40 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

was passing through a dozen different forms of govern- 
ment, and had a dozen capitals sometimes owning alle- 
giance to a single Emperor such as those of the T'ang 
dynasty who added Canton and the Cantonese to the 
Empire, sometimes split into petty kingdoms such as the 
"Ten States" this curious frontier war continued and 
was handed down from father to son. Chinese indus- 
trialism and socialism, content to accept whatever form 
of government Chinese strong men succeeded in impos- 
ing, instinctively kept up an iron resistance to these 
Northern invaders. Such was the fear inspired, that a 
proverb coined thousands of years ago is still current. 
"Do not fear the cock from the South, but the wolf from 
the North," it says. Everybody is always quoting this 
saying. I have heard it twice to-day. 

It was not until the tenth century that the Tartars 
finally broke through and established themselves defini- 
tively on Chinese soil. The Khitans, a Manchu-Tartar 
people, springing from Central Manchuria, then cap- 
tured Peking and made it their capital. The Khitans 
were a cheerful people, with a peculiar sense of humour 
and a still greater conviction of the inferiority of women. 
To show their contempt for them, it is still recorded that 
they used to slit the back of their wives and drink their 
blood to give them strength. For two and a half cen- 
turies the Khitans, under the style of the Liao or Iron 
dynasty, maintained their position by the use of the 
sword, and then succumbing to the sapping influence of 
Chinese civilisation, they in turn were unable to resist 
a second Manchu-Mongol horde, the Kins. The Kins, 
under the style of the Silver dynasty, reigned in North- 
ern China for a term of years, but there was nothing of 
a permanent character in their rule, since they were un- 



CITY OF PEKING AND ALL ITS GLORIES 41 

couth barbarians who soon drank themselves to death 
and destruction. 

At the beginning of the thirteenth century Genghis 
Khan, the great Mongol, born in the bleak Hsing-an 
Mountains, gathered together all the restless bands of 
Mongolia, and sweeping down on Peking drove out the 
Kins and established the purely Mongol dynasty of the 
Yuan. Up till then Peking had consisted of what is to- 
day the Chinese city, or the older outer city. Kublai 
Khan, Genghis's grandson, fixed his residence definitively 
in Peking in 1264, and began building the Ta-tu, or 
Great Residence the Tartar city of to-day. The 
Chinese city is oblong; the Tartar city is squat and 
square and overlaps and dominates the northern walls 
of the older city. Kublai Khan, by building the Tartar 
city on the northern edge of the Chinese city and fortify- 
ing it with immense strength, may be said to have fitted 
the spear-head on to the Chinese shaft, and to have 
given the key-note to the policy which exists to this day 
the policy of the North of China dominating the 
South of China. 

In time the Yuan dynasty of Mongols passed away 
their strength sapped by confinement to walled cities 
because their power was only on the tented field. Ser 
Marco Polo, that audacious traveller, never tires of 
telling of the magnificence of the Mongol Khans and 
their resplendent courts. It requires no Marco Polo to 
assure us that the thirteenth century of the Far East 
was immeasurably in advance of the thirteenth century 
of Europe. The vast and magnificent works which re- 
main to this day, weather-beaten though they be; the 
fierce reds, the wonderful greens, the boldness and size 
of everything, speak to us of an age which knew of 



42 INDISCREET LETTERS PROM PEKING 

mighty conquests of all Asia by invincible Mongol horse- 
men. . , . 

The Mongols were succeeded by the Mings a purely 
Chinese house; but the Mings, in some terror of the 
rough North, since for over four centuries Tartars or 
Manchu-Mongols had been the overlords of China, dis- 
creetly established their capital on the Yangtsze and 
called it Nanking, or the Southern capital. It was only 
the third Emperor of the Mings who dared to remove 
the court to Peking. His choice was ill made for his 
dynasty, since a century and a half had hardly passed 
before fresh hordes the modern Manchus began to 
gather strength in the mountains and valleys to the north- 
east of Moukden. Fighting stubbornly, Nurhachu, the 
founder of this new enterprise, steadily broke through 
Chinese resistance in the Liaotung, then a Chinese prov- 
ince colonised from Chihli, and slowly but surely reached 
out towards Peking, the goal which beckons to every one. 
The Great Wall, built eighteen hundred years before 
as a protection against other barbarians of the same 
stock, stopped Nurhachu a hundred times, and although 
he captured Moukden and made it a Manchu capital, he 
died worn out by half a century of warfare. His son, 
Tai Tsung, or Tien Tsung, nothing daunted, took up 
the struggle, and finding it impossible to break through 
the fortifications of the East, near Shanhai-kwan, 
adopted Genghis Khan's route the passes leading in 
from the great grassy plains of Mongolia many hun- 
dreds of miles to the West. Allying himself by mar- 
riage with Mongols, the Manchu monarch began a series 
of grand raids through their territory in the direction 
of Peking. Once he actually reached Peking and sat 
down in front of its mighty walls to besiege it. But he 



CITY OF PEKING AND ALL ITS GLORIES 43 

found his strength unequal to the task, and once more 
was forced to retire. Then this second Manchu prince 
died, and was succeeded by a tiny grandson of five. The 
regent appointed by the Manchu nobles owed his final 
success to the fact that he was called in by the Chinese 
generals commanding the coveted Shanhai-kwan gates 
to rescue Peking from the hands of Chinese insurgents, 
who had everywhere arisen; and in 1644, after seventy 
years of warfare, the Manchus seated themselves on the 
Dragon Throne, in defiance of the wishes of the people, 
but backed up by a vast concourse of Manchus and Mon- 
gols, and half the fierce blades of Eastern Asia. 

The history of all these centuries of warfare is elo- 
quently written on all the buildings, the fortifications, 
the monuments, the palaces and temples of Peking which 
surround us. Peking is the Delhi of China, and the 
grave of warlike barbarians. Four separate times have 
Tartars broken in and founded dynasties, and four 
separate times have Chinese culture and civilisation 
sapped rugged strength, and made the rulers the de facto 
servants of the ceremonious inhabitants. In the Tartar 
city there are Yellow Lama temples, with hundreds of 
bare-pated lama priests, the results of Buddhist Concor- 
dats guaranteeing Thibetan semi-independence in return 
for a tacit acknowledgment of Chinese suzerainty. 
Near the Palace walls is a Mongolian Superintendency, 
where the Mongol hordes still grazing their herds and 
their flocks on the grassy plains of high Asia, as they 
have done for countless centuries, are divided up into 
Banners, or military divisions, showing the enormous 
strength in irregular cavalry they possessed two hundred 
and fifty years ago. Round the Forbidden City are the 
Six Boards and the Nine Ministries, the outward signs 



44 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

of those bonds of etiquette and procedure which bind 
the Manchu Throne to the eighteen provinces. The 
walls of the Tartar city heave up fifty feet in the air, 
and are forty feet thick. The circumference of the outer 
ring of fortifications is over twenty miles. Each gate 
is surmounted by a square three-storied tower or pagoda, 
vast and imposing. Round the city and through the city 
run century-old canals and moats with water-gates shut- 
ting down with cruel iron prongs. In the Chinese city 
the two Temples of Heaven and Agriculture raise their 
altars to the skies, invoking the help of the deities for 
this decaying but proud Chinese Empire. Think of the 
millions of dead hands that fashioned such enormous 
strength and old-time magnificence ! On the corner of 
the Tartar Wall is the old Jesuit Observatory with beau- 
tiful dragon-adorned instruments of bronze given by a 
Louis of France. There are temples with yellow- 
gowned or grey-gowned priests in their hundreds 
founded in the times of Kublai Khan. There are 
Mohammedan mosques, with Chinese muezzins in blue 
turbans on feast days; Manchu palaces with vermilion- 
red pillars and archways and green and gold ceilings. 
There are unending lines of camels plodding slowly in 
from the Western deserts laden with all manner of 
merchandise ; there are curious palanquins slung between 
two mules and escorted by sword-armed men that have 
journeyed all the way from Shansi and Kansu, which are 
a thousand miles away; a Mongol market with bare- 
pated and long-coated Mongols hawking venison and 
other products of their chase; comely Soochow harlots 
with reeking native scents rising from their hair ; water- 
carriers and barbers from sturdy Shantung ; cooks from 
epicurean Canton; bankers from Shansi the whole 



CITY OF PEKING AND ALL ITS GLORIES 45 

Empire of China sending its best to Its old-world bar- 
baric capital, which has now no strength. 

And right in the centre of it all is the Forbidden City, 
enclosing with its high pink walls the palaces which are 
full of warm-blooded Manchu concubines, sleek eunuchs 
who speak in wheedling tones, and is always hot with 
intrigue. At the gates of the Palace lounge bow and 
jingal-armed Imperial guards. Inside is the Son of 
Heaven himself, the Emperor imprisoned in his own 
Palace by the Empress Mother, who is as masterful as 
any man who ever lived. . . . 

I beg you, do you begin to see something of Peking 
and to understand the eleven miserable little Legations, 
each with its own particular ideas and intrigues, but 
crouching all together under the Tartar Wall and trem- 
blingly awaiting with mock assurance the bursting of this 
storm ? If you are so good as to see this you will realise 
the wonderful stage effects, the fierce Medievalism in 
senile decay, the superb distances, the red dust from the 
Gobi that has choked up all the drains and tarnished all 
the magnificence until it is no more magnificence at all 
this dust which is such a herald of the coming storm 
the new guns and pistols of Herr Krupp and the camels 
of the deserts and all the other things all mixed up to- 
gether. . . . 

Oh, I see that we are absurd and can only be made 
more ridiculous by coming events. Of course the Boxers 
coming in openly through the gates cannot be true, and 

yet shades of Genghis Khan and all his Tartars, 

what is that? When I had got as far as this from all 
sides came a tremendous blaring of barbaric trumpets 
those long brass trumpets that can make one's blood 
curdle horribly, a blaring which has now upset every- 



46 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

thing I was about to write and also my inkpot. I rushed 
out to inquire; it was only a portion of the Manchu Pe- 
king Field Force marching home, but the sounds have 
unsettled us all again, and in the tumult of one's emo- 
tions one does not know what to believe and what to fear. 
Everything seems a little impossible and absurd, espe- 
cially what I am now writing from hour to hour. 



VIII 

SOME INCIDENTS AND THE ONE MAN 

1 2th June, 1900. 



Even the British Legation "the stoical, sceptical, 
ill-informed British Legation," as S of the Ameri- 
can Legation calls it is wringing its hands with an- 
noyance, and were it Italian, and therefore dramatically 
articulate, its curses and maladette would ascend to the 
very heavens in a menacing cloud like our Peking dust. 
For on England we have all been waiting because of an 
ancient prestige ; and England, every one says, is mainly 
responsible for our present plight. Everybody is lower- 
ing at England and the British Legation along Legation 

Street, because S was not sent for two weeks 

ago, and the language of the minor missions, who could 
not possibly expect to receive protecting guards unless 
they swam all the way from Europe, is sulphurous. 
They ask with much reason why we do not lead events 
instead of being led by them ; why are we so foolish, so 
confident. What has happened to justify all this, you 
will ask? Well, permit me to speak. 

The day before yesterday several Englishmen rode 
down to the Machiapu railway station, which is just 
outside the Chinese city, and is our Peking station, to 

welcome, as they thought, Admiral S and his 

reinforcements, so despairingly telegraphed for by the 
British Legation just fourteen days later than should 



48 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

have been done. Their passage to the station was 
unmarked by incidents, excepting that they noted with 
apprehension the thickly clustering tents of Kansu 
soldiery in the open spaces fronting the vast Temples 
of Heaven and Agriculture. Once the station was 
reached a weary wait began, with nothing to relieve the 
tedium, for the vast crowds which usually surround the 
"fire-cart stopping-place," to translate the vernacular, 
all had disappeared, and in place of the former noisiness 
there was nothing but silence. 

At last, somewhat downcast, our Englishmen were 
forced to return without a word of news, passing into 
the Chinese city when it was almost dusk. Alas! the 
Kansu soldiery, after the manner of all Celestials, were 
taking the air in the twilight; and no sooner did they 
spy the hated foreigner than hoots and curses rose 
louder and louder. The horsemen quickened their pace, 
stones flew, and had it not been for the presence of mind 
of one man they would have been torn to pieces. They 
left the great main street of the outer city in a tremen- 
dous uproar and seemed glad to be back among friends. 

Yesterday, the i ith, it seemed absolutely certain S 

would arrive, since he must have left Tientsin on 
the loth, and it is only ninety miles by rail. The Lega- 
tions wished to despatch a messenger, but the Kansu 
soldiery on those open spaces were not attractive, and 
nobody was very anxious to brave them. Who was to 
go ? No sooner was it mentioned in the Japanese Lega- 
tion than, of course, a Japanese was found ready to go; 
in fact, several Japanese almost came to blows on the 
subject. Sugiyama, the chancelier, somehow managed 
to prove that he had the best right, and go he did, but 
never to return. 



SOME INCIDENTS AND THE ONE MAN 49 

It was dark before his carter turned up in Legation 
Street, covered with dust and bespattered with blood, 
while I happened to be there. It was an ugly story he 
unfolded, and it is hardly good to tell it. On the open 
spaces facing the supplicating altars of Heaven and 
Agriculture this little Japanese, Sugiyama, met his death 
in a horrid way. The Kansu soldiery were waiting for 
more cursed foreigners to appear, and this time they had 
their arms with them and were determined to have 
blood. So they killed the Japanese brutally while he 
shielded himself with his small hands. They hacked 
off all his limbs, barbarians that they are, decapitated 
him, then mutilated his body. It now lies half-buried 
where it was smitten down. The carter who drove him 
was eloquent as only Orientals can be, when tragedy 
flings their customary reserve aside: "May my tongue 
be torn out if I scatter falsehoods," he said again and 
again, using the customary phrase, as he showed how it 
all happened. And late into the night he was still recit- 
ing his story to fresh crowds of listeners, who gaped with 
terror and astonishment. Squatting in a great Peking 
courtyard on his hams and calling on the unseen powers 
to tear out his tongue if he lied, he was a figure of some 
moment, this Peking carter, for those that thought ; for 
everybody realises that we are now caught and cannot be 
driven out. . . . 

This was the nth. On the I2th, the day was still 
more startling, for somehow the shadow which has been 
lurking so near us seems to have been thrown more for- 
ward and become more intense. The hero of the affair 
is the one really brave man among our chiefs, of course 

the Baron von K , the Kaiser's Minister to the 

Court of Peking. 



50 INDISCREET LETTERS FAOM PEKING 

The Baron is no stranger in Peking, although he has 
been here but a twelvemonth in his new capacity as 
Minister. Fifteen years ago his handsome face charmed 
more than one fair lady in the old pre-political situation 
days, when there was plenty of time for picnics and love- 
making. Then he was only an irresponsible attache; 
now he is here as a very full-blooded plenipotentiary, 
with the burden of a special German political mission in 
China, bequeathed him by his pompous and mannerless 

predecessor, Baron von H , to support. But a man 

is the present German Minister if there was ever one, 
and it was in the newly macadamised Legation Street 
that the incident I am about to relate occurred. 

Walking out in the morning, the German Minister saw 
one of the ordinary hooded Peking carts trotting care- 
lessly along, with the mule all ears, because the carter 
was urging him along with many digs near the tail. But 
it was not the cart, nor the carter, nor yet the mule, 
which attracted His Excellency's immediate attention, 
but the passenger seated on the customary place of the 

off-shaft. For a moment Baron von K could not 

believe his eyes. It was nothing less than a full-fledged 
Boxer with his hair tied up in red cloth, red ribbons 
round his wrists and ankles, and a flaming red girdle 
tightening his loose white tunic ; and, to cap all, the man 
was audaciously and calmly sharpening a big carver 
knife on his boots! It was sublime insolence, riding 
down Legation Street like this in the full glare of day, 
with a knife and regalia proclaiming the dawn of Boxer- 
ism in the Capital of Capitals, and, withal, was a very 

ugly sign. What did K do, go home and invite 

some one to write a despatch for him to his government 
deprecating the growth of the Boxer movement, and the 



SOME INCIDENTS AND THE ONE MAN 51 

impossibility of carrying out conciliatory instructions, as 
some of his colleagues, including my own chief, would 
have done ? Not a bit of it ! He tilted full at the man 
with his walking stick, and before he could escape had 
beaten a regular roll of kettledrums on his hide. Then 
the Boxer, after a short struggle, abandoned his knife, 
and ran with some fleetness of foot into a neigh- 
bouring lane. The gallant German Minister raised 
the hue and cry, and then discovered yet another Boxer 
inside the cart, whom he duly secured by falling 
on top of him ; and this last one was handed over to his 
own Legation Guards. The fugitive was followed into 
Prince Su's grounds, which run right through the Lega- 
tion area, and there cornered in a house. The mysteri- 
ous Dr. M then suddenly appeared on the scenes 

and insisted upon searching the Manchu Prince's entire 
grounds and most private apartments. But time was 
wasted in pourparlers., and in spite of a minute inspec- 
tion, which extended even to the concubine apartments, 
the Boxer vanished in some mysterious way like a breath, 
and is even now untraced. This shows us conclusively 
that there are accomplices right in our midst. 

No sooner had this incident occurred and been bandied 
round with sundry exaggerations, than the life of the 
Legations and the nondescripts who have been coming 
in from the country became more abnormal than ever. 
For in spite of our extraordinary position, even up to to- 
day we were attempting to work that is, writing three 
lines of a despatch, and then rushing madly out to hear 
the latest news. Now not so much as one word is writ- 
ten, and our eleven Legations are openly terribly per- 
turbed in body and mind and conscious of their intense 
impotence, although we have all the so-called resources 



52 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

of diplomacy still at our command, and we are officially 
still on the friendliest terms with the Chinese Govern- 
ment. 

This morning, the 1 2th, there was another commotion 
this time in Customs Street, as it is called. Three 
more Boxers, armed with swords and followed by a 
crowd of loafers, fearful but curious, ran rapidly past 
the Post Office, which faces the Customs Inspectorate, 
and got into a small temple a few hundred feet away, 
where they began their incantations. It was decided to 
attack them only with riding-whips, so as to avoid draw- 
ing first blood. But when a party of us arrived, we could 
not get into their retreat, as they had barricaded them- 
selves in. So marines and sailors were requisitioned with 
axes; after a lot of exhausting work it was discovered 
that the birds had flown. This was another proof that 
there is treachery among friendly natives, for without 
help these Boxers could never have escaped. 

And now imagine our excitement and general pertur- 
bation. Since the 8th or gth, I really forget which date, 
we have been acting on a more or less preconcerted plan 
that is, as far as our defences are concerned, as we 
have been quite cut off from the outer world. The com- 
manders of the British, American, German, French, 
Italian, Russian, Austrian and Japanese detachments 
have met and conferred each carefully instructed by his 
own Minister just how far he is to acquiesce in his col- 
leagues' proposals, which is, roughly speaking, not at all. 
We can have no effective council of war thus, because 
there is no commander-in-chief, and everybody is a 
claimant to the post. There is first an Austrian captain 
of a man-of-war lying off the Taku bar, who was merely 
up in Peking on a pleasure trip when he was caught by 



SOME INCIDENTS AND THE ONE MAN 53 

the storm, but this has not hindered him taking over 
command of the Austrian sailors from the lieutenant who 
brought them up; and everybody knows that a captain 
in the navy ranks with a colonel in the army. There are 
no military men in Peking excepting three captains of 
British marines, one Japanese lieutenant-colonel and his 
aide-de-camp, and some unimportant military attaches, 
who are very junior. So on paper the command should 
lie between two men the Austrian naval captain and 
the Japanese lieutenant-colonel. But, then, the Japanese 
have instructions to follow the British lead, and the 
senior British marine captain has orders to follow his 
own ideas, and his own ideas do not fancy the unattached 
Austrian captain of a man-of-war. So the concerted plan 
of defence has only been evolved very suddenly, a plan 
which has resolved itself naturally into each detachment- 
commander holding his own Legation as long as he could, 
and being vaguely linked to his neighbour by picquets of 
two or three men. But about this you will understand 
more later on. The point I wish you now to realise is 
that the counsels of the allied countries of Europe in the 
persons of their Legation Guards' commanders are as 
effective as those of very juvenile kindergartens. Every- 
body is intensely jealous of everybody else and deter- 
mined not to give way on the question of the supreme 
command. Of course, if the storm comes suddenly, 
without any warning, we are doomed, because you can- 
not hold an area a mile square with a lot of men who 
are fighting among themselves, and who have fallen too 
quickly into our miserably petty Peking scheme of things. 



IX 

THE COMING OF THE BOXERS 

1 4th June, 1900. 



I had risen yesterday somewhat late in the day with tha 
oddness and uncomfortableness I do not mean discom 
fort which comes from too much boots, too much dis 
turbance of one's ordinary routine, too much listening 
to people airing their opinions and recounting rumours 
and, last of all, very wearied by the uncustomary task o) 
transporting a terrible battery of hand artillery (for we 
are at last all heavily armed) ; and consequent of these 
varied things, I, like everybody else, was a good deal 
out of temper and rather sick of it all. I began to ask 
myself this question : Were we really playing an immense 
comedy, or was there a great and terrible peril menacing 
us? I could never get beyond asking the question. I 
could not think sanely long enough for the answer. 

The day passed slowly, and very late in the afternoon, 
when some of us had completed a tour of the Legations, 
and looked at their various picquets, I finished up at the 
Austrian Legation and the Customs Street. Men were 
everywhere sitting about, idly watching the dusty and 
deserted streets, half hoping that something was going to 
happen shortly, when suddenly there was a shout and a 
fierce running of feet. Something had happened. 

We all jumped up as if we had been shot, for we had 
been sitting very democratically on the sidewalk, and 



THE COMING OF THE BOXERS 55 

round the corner, running with the speed of the scared, 
came a youthful English postal carrier. That was all at 
first. 

But behind him were Chinese, and ponies and carts 
ridden or driven with a recklessness that was amazing. 
The English youth had started gasping exclamations as 
he ran in, and tried to fetch his breath, when from the 
back of the Austrian Legation came a rapid roll of mus- 
ketry. Austrian marines, who were spread-eagled along 
the roofs of their Legation residences, and on the top of 
the high surrounding wall, had evidently caught sight of 
the edge of an advancing storm, and were firing fiercely. 
We seized our rifles everybody has been armed cap-a- 
pie for days and in a disorderly crowd we ran down 
to the end of the great wall surrounding the Austrian 
compounds to view the broad street which runs towards 
the city gates. The firing ceased as suddenly as it had 
begun, and in its place arose a perfect storm of distant 
roaring and shouting. Soon we could see flames shoot- 
ing up not more than half a mile from where we stood; 
but the intervening houses and trees, the din and the ex- 
citement, coupled with the stern order of an Austrian 
officer, shouted from the top of an outhouse, not to 
move as their machine-gun was coming into action over 
our heads, made it impossible for us to understand or 
move forward. What was it? 

Presently somebody trotted up from behind us on a 
pony, and, waiting his opportunity, rode into the open, 
and with considerable skill seized a fleeing Chinaman by 
the neck. This prisoner was dragged in more dead than 
alive with fear, and he told us that all he knew was that 
as he had passed into the Tartar city through the Ha-ta 
Gate a quarter of an hour before, myriads of Boxers 



56 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

those were his words armed with swords and spears, 
and with their red sashes and insignia openly worn, had 
rushed into the Tartar city from the Chinese city, slash- 
ing and stabbing at every one indiscriminately. The 
foreigners' guns had caught them, he said, and dusted 
them badly, and they were now running towards the 
north, setting fire to chapels and churches, and any evi- 
dences of the European they could find. He knew noth- 
ing more. We let our prisoner go, and no sooner had 
he disappeared than fresh waves of fugitives appeared 
sobbing and weeping with excitement. The Boxers, de- 
flected from the Legation quarter, were spreading 
rapidly down the Ha-ta Great Street which runs due 
north, and everybody was fleeing west past our quarter. 
Never have I seen such fast galloping and driving in the 
Peking streets ; never would I have believed that small- 
footed women, of whom there are a goodly number even 
in the large-footed Manchu city, could get so nimbly 
over the ground. Everybody was panic-stricken and dis- 
traught, and we could do nothing but look on. They 
went on running, running, running. Then the waves of 
men, women and animals disappeared as suddenly as 
they had come, and the roads became once again silent 
and deserted. Far away the din of the Boxers could 
still be heard, and flames shooting up to the skies now 
marked their track; but of the dreaded men themselves 
we had not seen a single one. 

We had now time to breathe, and to run round making 
inquiries. We found the Italian picquet at the Ha-ta 
end of Legation Street nearly mad with excitement; 
the men were crimson and shouting at one another. But 
there was nothing new to learn. Bands of Boxers had 
passed the Italian line only eighty or a hundred yards 



THE COMING OF THE BOXERS 57 

off, and a number of dark spots on the ground testified 
to some slaughter by small-bore Mausers. They had 
been given a taste of our guns, that was all ; and, fearing 
the worst, every able-bodied man in the Legations fell in 
at the prearranged posts and waited for fresh develop- 
ments. 

At eight o'clock, while we were hurriedly eating some 
food, word was passed that fires to the north and east 
were recommencing with renewed vigour. The Boxers,* 
having passed two miles of neutral territory, had 
reached the belt of abandoned foreign houses and 
grounds belonging to the foreign Customs, to mission- 
aries, and to some other people. Pillaging and burning 
and unopposed, they were spreading everywhere. Flames 
were now leaping up from a dozen different quarters, 
ever higher and higher. The night was inky black, 
and these points of fire, gathering strength as their 
progress was unchecked, soon met and formed a vast 
line of flame half a mile long. There is nothing which 
can make such a splendid but fearful spectacle as fire at 
night. The wind, which had been blowing gently from 
the north, veered to the east, as if the gods wished us to 
realise our plight ; and on the breeze leading towards the 
Legations, some sound of the vast tumult and excitement 
was wafted to us. The whole city seemed now to be 
alive with hoarse noises, which spoke of the force of 
disorder unloosed. Orders for every man to stand by 
and for reinforcements to be massed near the Austrian 
quarter were issued, and impatient, yet impotent, we 
waited the upshot of it all. Chinese officialdom gave no 
sign ; not a single word did or could the Chinese Gov- 
ernment dare to send us. We were abandoned to our 
own resources, as was inevitable. 



58 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Suddenly a tremor passed over all who were watching 
the brilliant scene. The flames, which till then had been 
confined to a broad belt at least three thousand yards 
from our eastern picquets, began leaping up a mile 
nearer. The Boxers, having destroyed all the foreign 
houses in the Tsung-li Yamen quarter, were advancing 
up rapidly on the Tung T'ang the Roman Catholic 
Eastern Cathedral, which was but fifteen minutes' walk 
from our lines. We knew that hundreds of native Chris- 
tians lived around the cathedral, and that as soon as 
their lives were threatened they would at once seek 
refuge in their church, and we knew, also, what that 
would mean. 

The roar increased in vigour, and then hundreds of 
torches, dancing like will-o'-the-wisps in front of our 
straining eyes, appeared far down the Wang-ta, or so- 
called Customs Street, which separates Sir R 

H 's Inspectorate from the Austrian Legation. 

They were less than a thousand yards away. The Boxers, 
casting discretion to the winds, appeared to be once more 
advancing on the Legations. But then came a shout 
from the Austrian Legation, some hoarse cries in 
guttural German, and the big gates of the Legation were 
thrown open near us. The night was inky black, and 
you could see nothing. A confused banging of feet 
followed, then some more orders, and with a rattling 
of gun-wheels a machine-gun was run out and planted 
in the very centre of the street. 

"At two thousand yards," sang out the naval lieutenant 
unexpectedly and jarringly as we stood watching, "slow 
fire." 

I was surprised at such decision. Tang, tang, tang, 
tang, tang, spat the machine-gun in the black night, now 



THE COMING OF THE BOXERS 59 

rasping out bullets at the rate of three hundred a minute, 
as the gunner under the excitement of the hour and his 
surroundings forgot his instructions, now steadying to 
a slow second fire. This was something like a counter- 
excitement; we were beginning to speak at last. We 
were delighted. It was not so much the gun reports 
which thrilled us as the resonant echoes which, crackling 
like very dry fagots in a fierce fire as the bullets sped 
down the long, straight street, made us realise their 
destroying power. Have you ever heard a high-velocity 
machine-gun firing down deserted and gloomy thorough- 
fares ? It crackles all over your body in electrical shocks 
as powerful as those of a galvanic battery ; it stimulates 
the brain as nothing else can do ; it is extraordinary. 

The will-o'-the-wisp torches had stopped dancing for- 
ward now, but still they remained there, quite inexplic- 
able in their fixity. We imagined that our five minutes' 
bombardment must have carried death and destruction 
to every one and everything. And yet what did this 
mean? The flames, which had been licking round near 
the cathedral, suddenly burst up in a great pillar of fire. 
That was the answer; the cathedral was at last alight. 
At this we all gave a howl of rage, for we knew what 
that meant. The picquets had been mysteriously rein- 
forced by Frenchmen, Englishmen, and men of half a 
dozen other nationalities, all chattering together in all 
the languages of Europe. "Que faire, que faire," some- 
body kept bawling. "Get your damned gun out of the 
way," shouted other angry voices, "and let us charge 

the beggars." But Captain T , the Austrian 

commander, was already conferring with a dear col- 
league whom he had discovered in the dark. Even in 
this storm of excitement the protocol could not be for- 



60 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

gotten. Marines, sailors, and Legation juniors groaned ; 
was this opportunity to be missed? At last they 
arranged it; it should be a charge of volunteers. 

"Volunteers to the front," shouted somebody. Every- 
body sprang forward like one man. A French squad 
was already fixing bayonets noisily and excusing their 
rattle and cursing on account of the dark; the Austrians 
had deployed and were already advancing. "Pas de 
charge" called a French middy. Somebody started 
tootling a bugle, and helter-skelter we were off down the 
street, with fixed bayonets and loaded magazines, a 
veritable massacre for ourselves in the dark. . . . 

The charge blew itself out in less than four hundred 
yards, and we pulled up panting, swearing and laughing. 
Somebody had stuck some one else through the seat of 
the trousers, and the some one else was making a horrid 
noise about this trivial detail. Some rifles had also gone 
off by themselves, how, why and at whom no one would 
explain. A very fine night counter-attack we were, and 
the rear was the safest place. Yet that run did us good. 
It was like a good drink of strong wine. 

But we had now reached the first torches and under- 
stood why they remained stationary. The Boxers, met 
by the Austrian machine-gun, had stuck them in long 
lines along the edge of the raised driving road, and had 
then sneaked back quietly in the dark. Every minute 
we expected to have our progress checked by the dead 
bodies of those we had slain, but not a corpse could you 
see. The Austrian commander was now once again hold- 
ing a council of war, and this time he urged a prompt 
retreat. We had certainly lost touch with our own 
lines, and for all we knew we might suddenly be greeted 
with a volley from our own people coming out to rein- 



THE COMING OF THE BOXERS 61 

force us. Our commanders wobbled this way and that 
for a few minutes, but then, goaded by the general de- 
sire, we pushed forward again, with a common move- 
ment, without orders this time. We moved more 
slowly, firing heavily at every shadow along the 
sides of the road. Here it seemed more black than 
ever, for the spluttering torches, which cast a dim light 
on the raised road itself, left the neighbouring houses 
in an impenetrable gloom. Whole battalions of Boxers 
could have lurked there unmarked by us ; perhaps they 
were only waiting until they could safely cut us off. It 
was very uncanny. 

In front of us the flames of the burning Roman Cath- 
olic Cathedral rose higher and higher, and the shouts 
and roars, becoming ever fiercer and fiercer, could be 
plainly heard. Just then a Frenchman stumbled with a 
muttered oath, and, bending down, jumped back with a 
cry of alarm. At his feet lay a native woman trussed 
tightly with ropes, with' her body already half-charred 
and reeking with kerosene, but still alive and moaning 
faintly. The Boxers, inhuman brutes, had caught her, 
set fire to her, and then flung her on the road to light 
their way. She was the first victim of their rage we 
had as yet come across. That made us feel like savages. 

We were now not more than three hundred yards from 
the cathedral, and in the light of the flames, which were 
now burning more brightly than ever, we could see hun- 
dreds of figures dancing about busily. We had just 
halted to prepare for a final charge when something 
moved in front of us. "Halt," we all cried, marking 
our different nationalities by our different intonations of 
the word. A sobbing Chinese voice called back to us : 
"Wo pu shih; wo fu shih" which merely means, "I am 



62 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

not," leaving us to infer that he was referring to the 

Boxers; and then without waiting for an answer the 
night wanderer, whoever he might be, scampered away 
hurriedly. The immediate result was that we opened 

a terrible fusillade in the direction he had fled, our men 
firing at least a hundred shots. Many mocking voices 
then called back to us from the shadows. There was 
laughter, too. It was obviously hopeless trying to do 
anything in this dark; so when a bugler trotted up from 
our lines with stern orders from the French commandant 
for his men to retire, we all stumbled back more than 
willingly. We had gone out of our depth. 

Meanwhile the flames spread farther and farther, until 
half the Tartar city seemed on fire. All Peking awoke, 
and from every part confused noises and a vast barking 
of dogs was borne down on us. What course should we 
take, if the attack was suddenly carried all round our 
area? 

The French Minister was by this time officially in- 
formed that native Catholics were being butchered 
wholesale ; that there were plenty of men who were will- 
ing to go and rescue them, but that no one seemed to 
have any orders, and that every one was swearing at the 
general incompetence. Absolute confusion reigned 
within our lines; the picquets broke away from their 
posts; the different nationalities fraternised under the 
excitement of the hour and lost themselves ; and it would 
have been child's play to have rushed the whole Legation 
area. We felt that clearly enough. 

It was not until well past midnight, and after several 
heated discussions, that a relief party was finally organ- 
ised; but when they got to the cathedral there was hardly 
anything to see, for the butchery was nearly over and 



THE COMING OF THE BOXERS 63 

the ruin completed. Several hundred native Roman 
Catholics had disappeared, only a few Boxers were seen 
and shot and a few converts rescued. 

How well I remember the scene when this second expe- 
dition returned, excited and garrulous as only French- 
men can be. The French Minister led them in. He 
explained to us that the Boxers had already absolutely 
demolished everything that it was no use risking one's 
self so far from one's own lines any more that it was 
a terrible business, but que faire. . . . The French 
Minister did not hurry away, but stood there talking 
endlessly. It was at once dramatic and absurd. Sir 
R H , in company with many others, stood lis- 
tening, however, with an awestruck expression on his 
face. He carried a somewhat formidable armament 
at least two large Colt revolvers strapped on to his thin 
body, and possibly a third stowed away in his hip pocket. 
From midnight to the small hours there was a constant 
stream of our most distinguished personages coming and 
looking down this street and wondering what would 
happen next. It was not a very valiant spectacle. 

In this curious fashion the memorable night of the 
1 2th passed away, with sometimes one picquet firing, 
sometimes another, and with everybody waiting wearily 
for the morning. We had almost lost interest by that 
time. 

At half-past four the pink light began chasing away 
the gloom ; the shadows lightened, and day at last broke. 
At six o'clock native refugees from the foreign houses 
that had been burned came slinking silently in with white 
faces and trembling hands, all quite broken down by 
terrible experiences. One gate-keeper, whose case was 
tragically unique, had lost everything and everybody 



64 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

belonging to him, and was weeping in a curious Chinese 
way, without tears and without much contortion of 
features, but persistently, without any break or inter- 
mission, in a somewhat terrifying fashion. His wife, 
six children, his father and mother, and a number of 
relations had all been burned alive thirteen in all. 
They had been driven into the flames with spears. 
Moaning like a sick dog, and making us all feel cowardly 
because we had not attempted a rescue, the man sought 

refuge in an outhouse. Sir R H was still 

standing at his post, looking terribly old and hardly less 
distressed than the wretched fugitives pouring in. His 
old offices and residences, where forty years before he 
had painfully begun a life-long work, were all stamped 
out of existence, and the iron had entered into his 
soul. A number of the officers commanding detach- 
ments, and people belonging to various Legations, 
attempted to glean details as to the strength of the Boxer 
detachments from these survivors, but nobody could give 
any information worth having. I noticed that no Min- 
isters came; they were all in bed! 
At eight o'clock, still afoot, we heard that there 
was a deuce of a row going on at the Ha-ta Gate, be- 
cause it was still locked and the key was gone. It now 
transpired that a party of volunteers, led by the 
Swiss hotel-keeper of the place and his wife, had marched 
down to the gate after the Boxers had rushed in, had 
locked it, and taken the key home to bed, so that 
no one else could pay us their attentions from this 
quarter. This is the simplest and the most sensible 
thing which has been yet done, and it shows how we will 
have to take the law into our own hands if we are 
to survive. 



THE COMING OF THE BOXERS 65 

In this fashion the Boxers were ushered in on us. Most 
of us kept awake until ten or eleven in the morning for 
fear that by sleeping we might miss some incidents. But 
even the Boxers had apparently become tired, for there 
was not a sign of a disturbance after midnight. In spite 
of the quiet, however, the streets remain absolutely de- 
serted, and we have no means of knowing what Is going 
to happen next. 



X 

BARRICADES AND RELIEFS 

1 6th June, 1900. 



We have entered quite naturally in these unnatural 
times on a new phase of existence. It is the time of 
barricades and punitive expeditions; of the Legations 
tardily bestirring themselves in their own defence, and 
realising that they must try and forget their private poli- 
tics if they are even to live, not to say one day to resume 
their various rivalries and animosities. Imperceptibly 
we are being impelled to take action ; we must do some- 
thing. 

We woke up late on the I4th to the fact that loop- 
holed barricades had been everywhere begun on our 
streets, as effective bars to the Inrush of savage torch- 
bearing desperadoes, each Legation doing its own work; 
and that the Chinese Government, with its likes and dis- 
likes, would have to be seriously and cynically disre- 
garded if we wished to preserve the breath of life. So 
barricades have been going up on all sides, excepting 
near the British Legation, where the same indifference 
and sloth, which have so greatly contributed to this 
impasse, still remain undisturbed. Near the Aus- 
trian, French, American, Italian and Russian Legations 
barricade-builders are at work, capturing stray Peking 
carts, turning them over and filling them full of bricks, 
So quickly has the work been pushed on, that in some 



BARRICADES AND RELIEFS 67 

places there are already loopholed walls three feet thick 
stretching across our streets, and so cleverly constructed 
that carts can still pass in and out without great difficulty. 
We are still on speaking terms with the Chinese Govern- 
ment, but who knows what the morrow may bring? 

But although you may have gathered some idea of the 
general aspect of Peking from what I have written, it is 
more than probable that you have no clear conception of 
the Legation quarter and what this barricading means. 
It seems certain that we will have to fight some one in 
time, so I will try and explain. 

Legation Street, or the Chlao Min hsiang, to give it the 
native appellation, runs parallel to the Tartar Wall. 
Beginning at the west end of the street that is, the end 
nearest the Imperial City and the great Ch'ien Men 
Gate the Legations run as follows : Dutch, American, 
Russian, German, Spanish, Japanese, French, Italian. 
Of the eleven Legations, therefore, eight are in the one 
street, some on one side, some on the other; some ad- 
joining one another, with their enormous compounds 
actually meeting, others standing more or less alone with 
nests of Chinese houses in between. Apart from the 
eight Legations, there are a number of other buildings 
belonging to Europeans in this street, such as banks, the 
club, the hotel, and a few stores and nondescript houses. 
Taking the remaining three Legations, the Belgian is 
hopelessly far away beyond the Ha-ta Gate line; the 
Austrian is two hundred yards down a side street on 
which is also the Customs Inspectorate; and, finally, the 
British is at the back of the other Legations that is, 
to the north of the south Tartar Wall. The extent of 
this Legation and its sheltered position make it a sort 
of natural sanctuary for all non-combatants, since it is 



68 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

masked on two sides by the other Legations, and is only 
really exposed on two sides, the north and the west. Al- 
ready many missionaries and nondescripts have been 
coming in and claiming protection, and in the natural 
course of events it must become the central base of any 
defence. Every one sees and acknowledges that. 

At the two ends of Legation Street, the western Russo- 
American end and the eastern Italian end, heavy barri- 
cades have already gone up. The Dutch Legation, lying 
beyond the Russian and American Legations at this west 
end of the street, being without any guards and protec- 
tors, will, therefore, have to be abandoned immediately 
there is a rush from the Ch'ien Men Gate. The Belgian 
Legation is naturally untenable, and will also have to be 
sacrificed. The Austrian Legation is likewise a little too 
far away; but for the time being a triple line of barri- 
cades have gone up, having been constructed along the 
road between this Legation and the Customs Inspec- 
torate. To-day, the i6th, carts are no more to be seen 
on these streets ; foot traffic is likewise almost at an end. 
There is a tacit understanding that everybody must act 
on the defensive. 

Also every Chinaman passing our barricades is forced 
to provide himself with a pass, which shows clearly his 
reason for wandering abroad in times like this. There 
has already been trouble on this score, for our system has 
had no proper trial. . . . 

Since the I4th and that dreadful first Boxer night, we 
have begun to take affairs a good deal into our own 
hands, and have attempted to strike blows at this grow- 
ing movement, which remains so unexplained, whenever 
an occasion warranted it that is, those of us who have 
any spirit. Thus, on the afternoon of the I4th, Baron 



BARRICADES AND RELIEFS 69 

von K took a party of his marines on top of the Tar- 
tar Wall, pointed out to them a party of Boxer recruits 
openly drilling below on the sandy stretch, and gave 
orders to fire without a moment's hesitation. So the 
German rifles cracked off, and the sands were spotted 
with about twenty dead and dying. This action of the 
German Minister's at once created an immense contro- 
versy. The timid Ministers unhesitatingly condemned 
the action; all those who understand that you must prick 
an ulcer with a lancet instead of pegging at it with de- 
spatch-pens, as nearly all our chiefs have been doing, 
approved and began to follow the example set. This 
is the only way to act when the time for action comes in 
the East, and the net result is that we have been unend- 
ingly busy. There have been expeditions, raids, and na- 
tive Christians pouring in and demanding sanctuary with- 
in our lines. One story is worth telling, as showing how 
we are being forced to act. 

Word came to us suddenly that the Boxers had caught 
a lot of native Christians, and had taken them to a 
temple where they were engaged in torturing them with 
a refinement of cruelty. One of our leaders col- 
lected a few marines and some volunteers, marched 
out and surrounded the temple and captured everybody 
red-handed. The Boxers were given short shrift those 
that had their insignia on ; but in the sorting-out process 
it was impossible to tell everybody right at first sight. 
Christians and Boxers were all of them gory with the 
blood which had flown from the torturing and brutalities 
that had been going on; so the Christians were told to 
line up against the wall of the temple to facilitate the 
summary execution in progress. Then a big fellow 
rushed out of a corner, yelling, "I have received the 



70 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

faith." Our leader looked at the man with a critical 
eye, and then said to him in his quietest tones, "Stand up 
against the wall." The Boxer stood up and a revolver 
belched the top of his head off. With that quickness of 
eye for which he is distinguished, our leader had seen 
a few red threads hanging below the fellow's tunic. The 
man, as he fell with a cry, disclosed his sash underneath. 
He was a Boxer chief. At least thirty men were killed 
here. 

But it was at the Western Roman Catholic Cathedral 
that the most exciting times up till now have been had, 
for there, as at the other cathedral, the Boxers have been 
at work. The first relief expedition went out during 
the night that is, last night. Headed by some one 
from the French Legation, the expedition managed to 
bring in all the priests and nuns attached to the cathedral 

mission. Old Father d'A , a charming Italian 

priest, was the most important man rescued. After hav- 
ing been forty years here, he surveys the present scenes 
of devastation and pillage with the remark, "En Chine 
il n'y a ni Chretiens ni civilisation. Ce ne sont la que 
des phrases" That is what he said. 

This morning a second relief corps, containing the most 
miscellaneous elements, tramped away stolidly in the 
direction of the still smoking cathedral ruins in the hopes 
of saving some more unfortunates, and our expectations 
were soon realised. After a walk of a mile and a half, 
we rounded a corner with the sound of much wailing 
on all sides, and ran suddenly full tilt into at least two or 
three dozen Boxers, who have been allowed to do ex- 
actly as they like for days. There was a fierce scuffle, for 
we were down on them in a wild rush before they could 
get away, and they showed some fight. I marked down 



BARRICADES AND RELIEFS 71 

one man and drove an old sword at his chest. The 
fellow howled frightfully, and just as I was going to 
despatch him, a French sailor saved me the trouble by 
stretching him out with a resounding thump on the head 
from his Lebel rifle. The Boxer curled over like a sick 
worm and expired. There was not much time, however, 
to take stock of such minor incidents as the slaying of 
individual men, even when one was the principal actor, 
for everywhere men were running frantically in and out 
of houses, shouting and screaming, and the confusion 
was such that no one knew what to do. The Boxers had 
been calmly butchering all people who seemed to them 
to be Christians had been engaged in this work for 
many hours and all were now mixed up in such a 
confused crowd that it was impossible to distinguish 
friends and foes. As they caught sight of us, many of 
the marauders tore off their red sashes and fell howling 
to the ground, in the hope that they would be passed by. 
Dozens of narrow lanes round the ruined cathedral, 
which was still smoking, were full of Christian families 
hiding in the most impossible places, and everywhere 
Boxers and banditti, sometimes in groups, sometimes 
singly, still chased them and cut them down. Numbers 
had already been massacred, and several lanes looked 
like veritable shambles. The stench of human blood 
In the hot June air was almost intolerable, and the sights 
more than we could bear. Men, women and children lay 
indiscriminately heaped together, some hacked to pieces, 
others with their throats cut from ear to ear, some still 
moving, others quite motionless. 

Gradually we collected an ever-growing mob of terror- 
stricken people who had escaped this massacre. Some 
of the girls seemed quite 'paralysed with fear; others 



72 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

were apparently temporarily bereft and kept on shriek- 
ing with a persistency that was maddening. A young 
French sailor who did not look more than seventeen, and 
was splashed all over with blood from having fallen in 
one of the worst places, kept striking them two and three 
at a time, and cursing them in fluent Breton, in the 
hope of bringing them to reason. "Eh bien } mes 
belles! Vous ne finissez pas/' he ended despairingly, 
and rushed off again to see whether he could find any 
more. 

The blood was rising to our men's heads badly by now, 
and I saw several who could stand it no longer stabbing 
at the few dead Boxers we had secured. We had none 
of us imagined we were coming to such scenes as these ; 
for nobody would have believed that such brutal things 
were possible. When we judged we had finished rescu- 
ing every one alive, a man in the most pitiable condition 
ran out from behind the smouldering cathedral carrying 
a newly severed human head in either hand. He seemed 
but little abashed when he saw us, but came forward 
rapidly enough towards us, glancing the while over his 
shoulder. Several sailors were rushing at him with their 
bayonets, ready to spit him, when he fell on his knees, 
and, tearing open his tunic, disclosed to our astonished 
eyes a bronze crucifix with a silver Christ hung 0$ it. 
"Je suis catholique" he cried to us repeatedly and 
rapidly in fair French, and the sailors stayed their 
cold steel until we had extracted an explication. Then 
it transpired that he had used this horrible device to 
escape the notice of some Boxers who were still at 
work in a street on the other side of the cathedral. 
We ran round promptly on hearing this, and caught 
sight of a few fellows stripped to the waist, and 



BARRICADES AND RELIEFS 73 

gory with blood as I have never seen men before. 
Instead of fleeing, they met our charge with resolution, 
and one tall fellow put me in considerable danger of my 
life with a long spear, finally escaping before we could 
shoot him down. 

On this side the ruins of the cathedral were covered 
with corpses burned black from the heat of the flames 
and exposure to the sun. One woman, by some freak 
of nature, had her arms poised above her head as she 
sat dead, shrivelled almost beyond human recognition. 
It was probable that the Boxers had pitched many of 
their victims alive into the flames and driven them back 
with their swords and spears whenever they attempted 
to escape. . . . 

At last we got away with everybody who was still alive, 
as far as we could judge. Tramping back slowly and 
painfully, the rescued looked the most pitiable concourse 
I have ever seen. Somehow it was exactly like that elo- 
quent picture in "Michael Strogoff," showing the clouds 
of Siberian prisoners being driven away by Feofar 
Khan's Tartars after the capture of Omsk. Among our 
people there were the same old granddames, wrinkled 
and white haired, supporting themselves with crooked 
sticks and hobbling painfully on their mutilated feet; 
the same mothers with their children sucking their 
breasts ; the same little boys and little girls laden with 
a few miserable rags ; the same able-bodied men carrying 
the food they had saved. The older people gazed 
straight in front of them with the stolid despair of 
the fatalist East, and did not utter a word. A woman 
who had given birth to a child the very night before was 
being carried on a single plank slung on ropes, with a 
green-white pallor of death on her features. I have 



74 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

never taken part in such a remarkable procession as 
this. 

Thus bloodstained and very weary we finally reached 
our Legation quarter, and once again the energy and 

resolution of Dr. M expressed themselves. The 

grounds of the Su wang-fu, belonging to the Manchu 
prince Su, where the first Boxer we had openly seen had 
sought refuge a few days previously, were comman- 
deered by him, and by evening nearly a thousand Cath- 
olic refugees were crowded into its precincts. All day 
people were labouring to bring in rice and food for their 
people, and camp-fires were soon built at which they 
could cook their meals. Several of the chefs de mission 
were again much alarmed at this action of ours in openly 
rescuing Chinese simply because they were doubtful co- 
religionists. They say that this action will make us pay 
dearly with our own lives; that the Legations will be 
attacked; that we cannot possibly defend ourselves 
against the numbers which will be brought to bear 
against us ; that we are fools. Perhaps we are, but still 
there is some comfort in discovering that this nest of 
diplomacy still contains a few men. 

Meanwhile there is not a word of news from S , 

and there are indications that our despatches to the Chi- 
nese Government, which are being sent from every 
Legation more and more urgently, are hardly read. 
The situation is becoming more and more impossible, 
jand our servants say it is useless bringing in any news, 
as there is such confusion in the Palace that nobody 
knows anything reliable. 



XI 

SOME MEN AND THINGS 

1 6th June, 1900. 



No developments have taken place during the past few 
hours. So far very few men have been conspicuous ; and 
as it is these few who have brought about the only devel- 
opments, and outlined our position, and that they are to- 
day all terribly tired, we have absolute monotony. I 
have not heard what the German Minister has been do- 
ing, but it is rumoured that he is engaged in trying to 
re-establish communication with Tientsin and the sea 
by bribing the Tsung-li Yamen smaller officials to take 
down packets of his despatches by pony-express. It 
seems doubtful whether this will succeed. For all com- 
munication has absolutely ceased now, and the Customs 
postal carriers say that it is impossible to get through 
by any stratagem, as all the roads are swarming with 
Boxers and banditti. The Chinese Government, in its 
few despatches to some of the Legations, is clearly tem- 
porising and trying to save itself. There is no means of 
knowing what is going on inside the Palace, or of under- 
standing what the Empress Dowager has decided. 
Everybody says it is all topsy-turvydom now in the capi- 
tal, and that the most extraordinary reports are coming 
in from the provinces. Our Chinese despatch writers, 
our Manchu servants, and the few natives who come 



76 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

through our barricaded streets, all say the same thing 
that it is too soon to speak, but that the dangers are enor- 
mous. Meanwhile the more timid of these people at- 
tached to the Legation area are sending word that they 
are sick and cannot come any more. It is a polite way of 
saying that they are afraid. I do not blame them, since 
anything now is possible. You cannot surely ask men to 
sacrifice themselves when they are only bound to you 
by the hire system. Such is the external and general 
situation. 

Within our own quarter things are much the same, de- 
veloping naturally along the line of least resistance. 

Now that Prince Su's palace grounds have been openly 
converted into a Roman Catholic sanctuary, hundreds of 
converts are pouring in on us from everywhere, laden 
with their pots and pans, their beds, and their bundles of 
rice; indeed, carrying every imaginable thing. The great 

Northern Cathedral and Monseigneur F are in no 

danger, for the time being at least, since the cathedral 
and its extensive grounds are surrounded by powerful 
walls and the bishop has now got his fifty guards and 
possibly a couple of thousand young native Catholics, 
who can probably be armed and fight. So although it 
seems as if the whole Roman Catholic population of Pe- 
king is pouring in on us, we are in reality only getting a 
few hundred miserables who had no time to fly to their 
chief priest when the storm caught them; we have to 
prepare for the worst, as everything is developing very 
slowly. 

Even in this matter of Chinese refugees the attitude of 
our foolish Legations is rather inexplicable. Actually up 
to within a few days ago some of the Ministers were still 
resolutely refusing to entertain the idea that native Chris- 



SOME MEN AND THINGS 77 

tians men who have been estranged from their own 
countrymen and marked as pariahs because they have 
listened to the white man's gospel could be brought 
within the Legation area. In consequence of this hardly 
any Chinese Protestants have as yet come in. Of course 
circumstances, the force of example, and a timidity in the 
face of the growing irritation, have at length broken 
down this weak-kneed attitude, but people have not yet 
finished discussing it. For instance, there is a remark- 
able story about the well-known S , who wrote that 

celebrated book, "Chinese Characteristics." He turned 
up at the British Legation late one evening, long before 
the Boxers entered the Tartar city, and brought positive 

proof that unless S was hurried in we would all 

be murdered by a conspiracy headed by the most power- 
ful men. S was kept waiting for an hour, and then 

told that no time could be spared to see him as every- 
body was busy writing despatches! This is Indeed our 
whole situation expressed in a trivial incident; all the 
plenipotentiaries are trying to save their positions and 
their careers by violent despatch-writing at the eleventh 
hour. They know perfectly well that it is they alone 
who are responsible- for the present impasse, and that 
even if they come out alive they are all hopelessly com- 
promised. Young O told me that in their Legation 

they were actually antedating their despatches so as to 
be on the safe side! This shows how absolutely inex- 
cusable has been the whole policy for three entire weeks. 
We do not know what is going on around us ; we do 
not know of what the Peking Court is thinking; we do 

not know by whom S has been stopped. We know 

nothing now excepting that we are gradually but surely 
getting so dirty that our tempers cannot but be vile. One 



78 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

never realises how great a part soap and water play in 
one's scheme of things until times like these. With up- 
turned Peking carts blocking the ingresses to our quar- 
ter; with everything disgruntled and out of order; with 
native Christians crowding in on us, sensible heathen 
servants bolting as hard as they can, ice running short, 
we, the eleven Legations of Peking, await with some 
fear and trepidation and an ever-increasing discomfort 
our various fates under the shadow of the gloomy 
Tartar Wall. What is to be the next thing? I could 
possibly imagine and write something about this were I 
not so tired. 



XII 

HELL HOUNDS 

Night, 1 7th June, 1900. 



It is past twelve o'clock at night, but in spite of the 
late hour and my fatigue I have been dead tired for 
a week now I am writing this with the greatest ease, 
my pen gliding, as it were, over a surface of ice-like 
slippiness, although my fingers are all blistered from 
manual work. Why, you will ask? Well, simply be- 
cause my imagination is afire, and taking complete con- 
trol of such minor things as the nerves and muscles of 
my right arm, my eyes and my general person, it speeds 
me along with astonishing celerity. Let your imagina- 
tion be aflame and you can do anything. . . . 

It began last night. (No sooner had the gates which 
pierce the Tartar Wall been closed by the Imperial 
guards, Who still remain openly faithful to their duties, 
than tnere arose such a shouting and roaring as I 
have never heard before and never thought possible. It 
was the Boxers. The first time the Boxers had rushed 
in on us, it was through the Ha-ta Gate to the east of 
the Legations. Last night, after having for three days 
toured the Tartar city pillaging, looting, burning and 
slaying, with their progress quite unchecked except for 
those few hundred rifle shots of our own, the major part 
of the Boxer fraternity, to whom had joined themselves 
all the many rapscallions of Peking, found themselves in 
the Chinese or outer city after dark, and consequently 



80 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

debarred from coming near their legitimate prey. (The 
gates are still always closed as before.) Somebody must 
have told them that they could do as they liked with 
Christians and Europeans; for, mad with rage, they 
began shouting and roaring in chorus two single words, 
"Sha-shao" kill and burn, in an ever-increasing cres- 
cendo. I have heard a very big mass of Russian 
soldiery give a roar of welcome to the Czar some 
years ago, a roar which rose in a very extraordinary 
manner to the empyrean; but never have I heard such 
a blood-curdling volume of sound, such a vast bellowing 
as began then and there, and went on persistently, hour 
after hour, without ever a break, in a maddening sort of 
way which filled one with evil thoughts. Sometimes for 
a few moments the sound sank imperceptibly lower and 
lower and seemed making ready to stop. Then rein- 
forced by fresh thousands of throats, doubtless wetted 
by copious drafts of samshu, it grew again suddenly, 
rising stronger and stronger", hoarser and hoarser, more 
insane and more possessed, until the tympanums of our 
ears were so tortured that they seemed fit to burst. 
Could walls and gates have fallen by mere will and 
throat power, ours of Peking would have clattered down 
Jericho-like. Our womenfolk were frozen with horror 
the very sailors and marines muttered that this was 
not to be war, but an Inferno of Dante with fresh 
horrors. You could feel instinctively that if these men 
got in they would tear us from the scabbards of our 
limbs. It was pitch dark, too, and in the gloom the 
towers and battlements of the Tartar Wall loomed up 
so menacingly that they, too, seemed ready to fall in and 
crush us. 
For possibly three or four hours this insane demonstra- 



HELL HOUNDS 81 

tion proceeded apace. The Manchu guards listened 
gloomily and curiously from the inside of the gates, but 
made no attempt to open them, but they equally refused 
sullenly to parley with a strong body of sailors and 
volunteers we sent with instructions to shoot any one 
attempting to unlock the barriers. Yet it was evident 
that the guards had received special instructions, and 
that the gates would not be handed over to the mob. 

A few minutes before midnight the sounds became 
more sullen, and beneath the general uproar another 
note, one of those in distress, began, as it were, like an 
undercurrent to this pandemonium. The cause we had 
not long to seek, for presently flames began to shoot 
up, a sight we were by now well accustomed to, though 
not in this purely trading quarter of the city. The fire, 
started with savage disregard in the very centre of the 
most densely populated street of the Chinese city, spread 
with terrible rapidity. Soon both sides of Ch'ien Men 
great street, just on the other side of the Tartar Wall, 
were enveloped in raging flames, and a lurid light, grow- 
ing ever brighter and brighter, turned the dark night 
into an unnatural day. 

Between the incendiaries and ourselves the great Tartar 
Wall stood firm, but though this ancient defence against 
other barbarians was an effective protection for us, it 
could not long remain immune itself. The lou, or 
square pagoda-like tower facing the Chinese city side, 
caught some of the thousands and tens of thousands of 
sparks flying skywards, and it was not long before the 
vast pile was burning as fiercely as the rest. The great 
rafters of Burmese teak, brought by Mongol Khans six 
centuries before to Peking, were as dry as tinder with 
the dryness of ages; and thus almost before we had 



82 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

noted that the bottom of the tower was well alight the 
flames were shooting through the roof and out through 
the hundreds of little square windows which in olden 
days were lined by archers. Higher and higher the 
flames leaped, until the top of the longest tongues of 
fire, pouring out through a funnel of brick, was hun- 
dreds of feet above the ground level. Only Vereschagin 
could have done justice to this holocaust; I have never 
seen anything so barbarically splendid. 

Meanwhile below this in the Chinese city all had be- 
come quiet, except for the increasing and growing roar 
of the all-devouring flames. The Boxers, as if appalled 
by their own handiwork and the mournful sight of the 
capital in flames, had retreated into their haunts and 
had left the unfortunate townfolk to battle with this 
disaster as they could. From the top of the wall, which 
I hastily climbed as soon as I obtained permission to 
leave my post, thousands and tens of thousands of figures 
could be seen moving hurriedly about laden with mer- 
chandise, which they were attempting to save. Busy as 
ants, these wonderful Chinese traders were rescuing as 
much of their invested capital from the very embrace of 
the flames as they could at a moment when the Boxer 
patriots, menacing and killing them with sword and 
spears as san mao-tzu, or third-class barbarians who sold 
the cursed foreigners' stuffs and products, had hardly 
disappeared. 

Yet it seemed vain, indeed, to talk of salvage with half 
the city in flames, for other fires now began mysteriously 
in other places, which "lighted" the horizon. "Tout 
Pekin brule" muttered a French sailor to me as I passed 
back to my post, and his careless remark made me think 
that this was the Commune and Sansculottism inter- 



HELL HOUNDS 83 

mixed the ends of two centuries tumbled together 
because we foreigners had upset the equilibrium of the 
Far East with our importunities and our covetousness 
of the Yellow Man's possessions. . . . 

And what of S , what of the Peking Govern- 
ment what is everybody in the outside world doing 
the distant world of which we have so suddenly lost all 
trace, while we are passing through such times? We 
do not know; we have no idea; we have almost for- 
gotten to think about it. S was heard of twice 

some days ago from Langfang, a station only forty 
miles from Peking, but why he does not advance, why 
there is this intolerable delay, we do not know. The 
Peking Government is still decreeing and counter- 
decreeing night and day according to the Government 
Gazettes. The Ministers of our eleven Legations are 
meeting one another almost hourly, and are eternally 
discussing, but are doing nothing else./'We have blocked 
our roads with barricades and prov!8d our servants 
and dependents with passes written in English, French, 
German, Italian, Russian and Chinese-A-so that every 
one can understand. We are now sick of such a multi- 
tude of languages and wish all the world spoke 
Volapiik. 

Thus with our rescued native Christians, our few 
butchered Boxers, our score and more of fires lighting 
the whole of the horizon, here in the middle of the night 
of the 1 6th of June we are no further forward in 
our political situation than we were two and a half 
weeks ago, when our Legation Guards arrived, and we 
esteemed ourselves so secure. Two and a half weeks 
ago ! It seems at least two and a half months; but that 
is merely the direct fault of having to live nearly twice 
the proper number of hours in twenty-four. 



XIII 

A FEW CRUMBS 

1 8th June, 1900. 



It has just transpired that Hsu Tung, an infamous 
Manchu high official, who has been the Emperor's tutor, 
and whose house is actually on Legation Street some 
fifty yards inside the lines of the Italian Legation, has 
been allowed to pass out of our barricaded quarter, go- 
ing quite openly in his blue and red official chair. This 
is a terrible mistake which we may pay for dearly. 

Hsu Tung is a scoundrel who is at least thorough in 
his convictions as far as we are concerned. It is he who 
has long been boasting and all Peking has been repeat- 
Ing his boast that in the near future he is going to line 
his sedan chair with the hides of foreign devils and fill 
his harem with their women ; and it is he, above all other 
men, who should have been seized by us, held as hos- 
tage, and shot out of hand the very moment the Chinese 
Government gives its open official sanction to this insane 
Boxer policy. Had we acted in this way and taken 
charge of a number of other high officials who live just 
around us, we might have shown the trembling govern- 
ment that a day of retribution is certain to come. And 
yet listen what happened. Either on the I5th or i6th 
Hsu Tung sent the majordomo of his household cring- 
ing to the French Legation for a passepartout. * He had 
already tried once to escape by way of the Italian barri- 



A FEW CRUMBS 85 

cades, but had been sternly ordered back, and his house 
placed under watch. Somehow, through the foolishness 
of an interpreter of the French Legation, he got his 
safe-conduct pass, and started out bold as brass in the 
morning, seated in his official chair and accompanied by 
his official outriders. He passed a first French barricade 
and reached an outer second barrier manned by volun- 
teers, who challenged him roughly and then refused to 
let him pass. 

The outriders then tried to ride our men down, and it 
needed a rifle-shot to bring them to their senses. For- 
tunately nobody was hurt, and presently the youthful 
volunteers had Hsu Tung himself out of the chair, and 
kept him seated on the ground while they debated 
whether they should respect the French pass or strap 
the great man up and send him to their own quarters as 
a prisoner of war- 
In the end, however, one of the secretaries came up and 
inquired what it all meant, and then, of course, weak 
counsels prevailed, and Hsu Tung was allowed to sneak 
off unmolested down a side lane. 

This incident is typical as showing the stamp of men 
who have commanding voices in our beleaguered quar- 
ter. 

God help us if any considerable force is sent against us, 
for we can never help ourselves. Every proper-minded 
young man is a natural soldier methinks, even in Anno 
Domini 1900, but every elderly person in the same year 
of grace is quite valueless that is what we have already 
discovered. 

And yet even to-day all the senior people in our Lega- 
tion area those who are our guides and mentors 
though they be secretly much alarmed, are comforting 



86 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

themselves with a great deal of garrulous talk because 
a letter has arrived from Tientsin in fact, several let- 
ters have arrived. This is the first reliable news we 
have had for many days, and everybody seems now to 
imagine that we are safe. The chief item in these fate- 
ful missives seems to be that the Roman Catholic Cathe- 
dral at Tientsin has also been burned; that this was 
accompanied by massacres of native converts ; and that 
the riverine port is swarming with Boxers. And there 

is no news of S , no news of anything good. 

What has become of him we cannot imagine. Yet Min- 
isters, secretaries, and elderly nondescripts are somewhat 
relieved, and go about nervously smiling in a very ridic- 
ulous way. No one can quite make out why they are 
relieved, excepting, perhaps, that they are delighted to 
find that the visible world still exists elsewhere, and goes 
on revolving on its own axis in spite of our dilemma. 
Why should the obvious be so often discovered? 

Our poor Legation Guards and their commanding 
officers, with whom we were so pleased a fortnight ago, 
are quite as crushed as every one else now perhaps even 
more. You see the rank and file are merely a crowd of 
uneducated sailors, who have not yet made head or tail 
of what all this Peking bouleversement means. They 
were suddenly entrained and rushed up to Peking many 
days ago; they arrived in the dark; they were crammed 
into their respective Legations as quickly as possible; 
they have done a little patrol and picquet work on the 
streets, and have stood expectantly behind barricades 
which they were told to erect; but otherwise they are as 
completely at sea again as if they were back to their 
ships. ... In all the clouds of dust and smoke around 
them, how can they understand? It is true I have 



A FEW CRUMBS 87 

rather a grudge against some persons of the Legation 
defenders as yet unknown, and think of them perhaps a 
little angrily, for, like all soldiery, they loot. They have 
already taken my field-glasses, an excellent revolver, and 
several other things during the confusion of the nights. 
Of course this is the fortune of war, as all old cam- 
paigners will tell you, but a more decent interval should 
have been allowed to elapse before beginning the inevi- 
table stripping process. . . . 

As for the detachment officers, some of them are very 
good fellows and some of them are not; but already they 
have each of them instinctively adopted the old attitude 
of the Legations towards one another. They are mutu- 
ally suspicious. The detachment officers are also con- 
siderably tired and in very bad tempers, for the night 
has been turned into day with a regularity which cannot 
leave anybody very happy. Then dirt is accumulating, 
too, sad truth; and in the East you cannot feel dirty 
in^ the summer and be^ happy. Tfiat is quite im- 
possible. . . . 

Thus we are all in a very grunting frame of mind. The 
British Legation appears to be at length hopelessly 
crowded with perspiring missionaries of all denomina- 
tions and creeds, who have suddenly come in from be- 
yond the barricades. Life must be quite impossible 
there. The novelty of this experience has been worn off, 
and I for one would welcome any change, either for bet- 
ter or worse. So long -as it is only a change. . . . 



XIV 
THE ULTIMATUM 

1 9th June, 1900. 



How foolish we can be ! Only last night I was bewail- 
ing the dulness and the dirt of it all, and the general 
absurdity and discomfort, and now without one qualm I 
confess I would willingly exchange yesterday's uncer- 
tainty for to-day's certainty that we are all going to be 
made Into mincemeat. But I do not even feel serious or 
desperate now ; it has got beyond that. 

I do not know at what hour the ultimatum came to- 
day; it may have been eleven in the morning or one in 
the afternoon; but one thing I do know is, that here, at 
four in the afternoon, the great majority of one thou- 
sand Europeans are shaking, absolutely distraught. It 
is evident therefrom that there is something impressive 
and demoralising to most people in the idea of finality, 
and that on the threshold of the twentieth century, cour- 
age, since it is seldom dealt in, is hardly a great living 
force. It makes one realise, too, that with all their 
faults, the aristocrats of France, who, a hundred years 
ago, were condemned to the shameful death of the guil- 
lotine and went in their tumbrils through streets filled 
with cursing crowds of sansculottes, with scorn and con- 
tempt written on their features, were rather exceptional 
people. Things have changed since then, and the so- 
called Americanisation of the world has not conduced to 



THE ULTIMATUM 89 

gallantry. Fortunate are we that there is no white 
man's audience to watch us impassively, and to witness 
the effects of this bombshell, of an ultimatum which has 
come to-day. There is nothing so humiliating as abject 
fear. Curiously enough, the women bear it much better 
than the elder men, who are openly distraught; and 
when I say women, I mean all the women, both those 
belonging to the Legations and the dozens of mission- 
ary women who have crowded in. Nearly every one 
of them is better than the elderly men; at least, they 
try and say nothing so as not to add to the terrible con- 
fusion. . . . 

But the ultimatum what is it, and against whom is 
it so summarily directed? Briefly the ultimatum is a 
neat-looking document written on striped Chinese de- 
spatch-paper, and comes from the Tsung-li Yamen, or 
office charged with the overseeing of "the outside na- 
tions' affairs" which are the affairs of Europe. After 
very briefly referring to a demand made by the allied 
admirals for a surrender of the Taku forts off the 
muddy bar of the Tientsin River about which we know 
nothing it goes on to say that as China can no longer 
protect the Legations, the Legations will have to protect 
themselves by leaving Peking within twenty-four hours, 
dating from to-day at four o'clock. That is all. Not 
another word. Yet in other words this document means 
this : that the demand of the admirals must have been 
refused ; that they would not have made it unless some- 
thing disastrous had happened to S and to Tient- 
sin; that acts of war have already been committed, and 
that it will be no longer a Boxer affair, but a govern- 
ment affair. This makes our position desperate enough 
in all truth. There is to be war. . . . 



90 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

The ultimatum was conveyed to the eleven Legations 
and the Inspectorate-General of Foreign Customs in 
twelve neat red envelopes by trembling fing ch'ai of the 
Chinese Government, and in spite of some attempt at 
first to hide its contents was soon known by every one. 
The twelve copies, indeed, were exactly alike, twelve 
bombshells, which, bursting in twelve different parts 
of our barricaded quarter, finally united their fumes un- 
til we were all fairly suffocated. For we have either 
got to flee now or be butchered. Mechanically all eyes 
were turned at once to the chiefs of the eleven missions 
to China, who have brought things to such a pass, and 
everybody demanded frantically that something should 
be done. People lost control of themselves and behaved 
insanely. It was not long before the whole diplomatic 
body met in a terrible gloom at the Legation of the 
Spanish Minister, who is the doyen of tfre Corps, and 
soon a tremendous discussion was raging. There were 
mutual recriminations, and proposal after proposal was 
taken up and rejected as being too dangerous. Nobody 
had for a moment dreamed that such a menace would 
come so swiftly. Expectant crowds soon gathered round 
the gates of the Spanish Legation, and attempted to 
find out what was being decided, but the only thing I 

could learn was that brave Von K proposed at once 

that the Ministers should go in a body to the Yamen 
and force the Chinese Government to agree to an armis- 
tice. This was vetoed by all, of course, and one gentle- 
man openly wept at the idea. In the end, at seven 
o'clock, when it was nearly dark, a joint Note was pre- 
pared, saying that the Ministers could only accept the 
demand made on them and prepare to leave Peking at 
once, but that twenty-four hours was too short a notice 



THE ULTIMATUM 91 

in which to pack their trunks, and that, besides, they 
must have some guarantees as to the ninety miles road 
to Tientsin, which were so swarming with bandits that 
communication had been completely interrupted. That 
is to say, the Ministers were prepared to accept. - . . 

No sooner had this weak reply been despatched than a 
fresh wave of consternation passed over the whole Lega- 
tion quarter, for we now number nearly a thousand 
white people in all, and we could never march that dis- 
tance to Tientsin unbroken. But beneath that wave of 
consternation a fiercer note steadily rose the note of 
revolt against the decrees of eleven men. I cannot de- 
scribe to you what an intensity of passion was suddenly 
revealed. Muttering first, this revolt became quite open 
and almost unanimous. All of us would have a fair 
fight behind barricades and entrenchments, but no mas- 
sacre of a long, unending convoy. For picture to your- 
self what this convoy would be crawling out of giant Pe- 
king in carts, on ponies and afoot, if it were forced to 
go; we would be a thousand white people with a vast 
trail of native Christians following us, and calling on 
us not to abandon them and their children. Do you 
think we could run ahead, while a cowardly massacre 
by Boxers and savage soldiery was hourly thinning out 
the stragglers and defenceless people in the rear? 
Never ! 

Hardly anybody thought of eating all that long even- 
ing. Most of us were trying to find out whether some 
sensible understanding could not be arrived at; whether 
we could not prepare before it was too late. But it 
was quite in vain to plan anything or attempt to think of 
anything. Everything was so topsy-turvy, everybody 
so panic-stricken. 



92 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

But as the night grew later and later, some people 
began busying themselves packing boxes, still delud- 
ing themselves that they were going to leave comfort- 
ably on the morrow as if nothing had happened. Yet 
the world is really upside down as far as we are con- 
cerned, and it is quite absolutely impossible that the 
situation should end so normally as to find us quietly re- 
treating down the Tieatsio.,road. Others kept sending 
out servants to discover at what price carts would under- 
take to drive the whole way down to the sea, or at least 
to Tientsin. Forty, fifty, and even one hundred taels 
were demanded for three days' work; and then, al- 
though the carters said they would come if the govern- 
ment sends proper escorts of soldiers as has been 
promised, Heaven only knows if they will ever dare 
to move near our stricken quarter. Still in some Lega- 
tions they ordered fifty carts at any price, with the most 
lavish promises of reward for those that could manage 
to secure them. All the official servants soon came back 
trembling, saying that they had found a few carts, but 
that it was pu yi fing not at all sure whether the car- 
ters would dare to move when daylight came. For the 
whole city is already in a fresh uproar; people are flying 
in every direction in the night. Stories come in of 
officials who have been pulled out of their chairs and 
forced to K'efou to Boxers to show their respect to the 
new power. Prince Tuan has been appointed President 
of the Tsung-li Yamen, high Manchus have been placed 
in charge of the Boxer commands, and rice is being 
issued to them from the Imperial granaries. There is 
no end to the tales that now come in, since everybody 
has understood that there is no need for concealment 
and that there is going to be some sort of war. At two 



THE ULTIMATUM 93 

o'clock I even began to get news of what the Empress 
Dowager had been doing, and how the Boxer partisans 
had become so strong that it was absolutely impossible 
to hope for anything but the worst. 

Once when I got some details which I thought of im- 
portance, I tried to find my chief in order to communi- 
cate it to him. But he was lost in the middle of the 
night, conferring unofficially with some of his col- 
leagues; and I could but feel immensely amused when 
in his office I saw that he had been scribbling some fren- 
zied notes on the back of a completed despatch, dealing 
with one of those petty little affairs which were so im- 
portant only the other day. 

Ah, where are the dear little political situations of only 
a few weeks ago; those safe little political situations 
which redounded so much to the credit of those that made 
them and did not contain any of the dread elements of 
our present very real and terrible one! Like soldiers 
who have degenerated from the chasing of mere vaga- 
bonds of mediocre importance, so have our Peking Min- 
isters Plenipotentiary and Envoys Extraordinary fallen 
from their proud estate to mere diplomatic make-beliefs 
full of wind wind-blown from much tilting at wind- 
mills, with their Governments rescuing them Sancho 
Panza-like at the eleventh hour. . . . 

But though for us there is still some hope, there is very 
little for the wretched native Christians quartered in the 
palace grounds of Prince Su, whom we have saved from 
the Boxers. 

They soon heard the news, too, that the foreigner who 
has once saved them is going going away because he 
has been ordered to. All night long there was an awful 
panic among these people which made one's heart sick, 



94 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

for they understood better than us how quickly they 
would be massacred once they left our care. 
I shall never forget the night of the I9th of June, 1900, 
with all its 'tragedy and tragi-comedy, though I 
live to be a hundred. It allowed me to see something 
of real human nature in momentary flashes; of how 
mean and full of fear we really are, how small and how 
easily impressed. A hundred times I longed to have the 
time and the power to set down exactly so that every one 
might understand the incidents and the sudden impulses 
which took place all prompted by that master of hu- 
man beings FEAR. That is why we worship heroes, 
or we pretend we worship them, because it is the culte. 
For a moment these people who have been set on pedes- 
tals were not afraid. Is it only the power not to be 
afraid which, makes one a hero? 



XV 

THE DEBACLE BEGINS 

2oth June, 1900. 



It is notorious that in moments of tension, when the 
mind has been stimulated to too great an activity by 
unhealthy excitement, you think of the most curiously 
assorted things in fact, of absurd things which are 
quite out of place. I have been thinking the whole time 
of something very stupid which is only fiction: That a 
Zulu, named Umslopagas, rode and ran one hundred 
miles in a single night and then refreshed himself suf- 
ficiently by a couple of hours' sleep to deliver battle with 
such vigour at the head of a marble staircase, that he 
saved the haggard hero. That is what I have been 
thinking of. ... 

We of Peking are, unfortunately, not of the mettle of 
Zulus, and as far as I am personally concerned, three 
hours' sleep is but the appetite-giver for five hours more. 
And so on this fateful 2Oth June, with the time limit of 
our ultimatum expiring at four o'clock, I got up in no 
sort of valorous spirit, and with the feeling that 
tragedies outside the theatre at least those that spin 
themselves out for an indefinite number of days are 
quite impossible for us Moderns. But, then, probably 
everybody has always thought the same thing even 
those who lived before the Renaissance. 

At eight o'clock every one was once more afoot, al- 
though most have hardly had a wink of sleep. All over 



96 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

our Legation quarter, dusty and dirty men, unwashed 
and unbathed, now squatted along the edge of the 
streets, hanging their weary heads against their rifles, 
with their faces very white from too much sentry-go 
and too little sleep. There is little distinction between 
sailors and Legation people, for we are all in the same 
dilemma. On this eventful 2Oth of June, instead of being 
resolute and alert, everybody is merely tired and weak- 
ened by a couple of weeks' watchfulness against Boxers 
during an unofficial semi-siege, a state of affairs which 
has quite unfitted us for fresh strains. Yet beyond our 
barricades of upturned carts and stolen building-bricks 
all was quiet and peaceful, and hardly a thing moves. 
It seemed as if we had been only dreaming. . . . Wan- 
dering down beyond the eastern end of Legation Street, 
which gives you the most view of the mysterious world 
around the great Ha-ta Street, which the Boxers have 
conquered, indeed you find everything practically de- 
serted, the people having learned that it is best to stay 
indoors until this crisis is solved in some manner. Oc- 
casionally a rag-picker, or some humble person so little 
separated from the life hereafter that to push a trifle 
closer does not spell much peril, can be seen hooking up 
rags and whatnots from the piles of Peking offal. If 
you speak to him he gives an unintelligent pu chih tao 
"I do not know" and moves boorishly on. As my old 
Chinese writer said a week ago, Peking has never been 
in such a state of topsy-turvydom since the robber who 
unseated the Ming dynasty rushed in two and a half 
centuries ago. . . . 

Going on top of the great Tartar Wall and gazing 
down on the scene of devastation and ruin beyond the 
Ch'ien Men Gate, one can hardly believe one^s eyes, for 



THE DEBACLE BEGINS 97 

where there was once a mighty bustle one now sees thou- 
sands of houses with nothing but their walls standing 
and charred timbers strewing the grounds. The great 
burned tower which blazed so wondrously a few nights 
ago is still half standing, its mighty brick-work too pow- 
erful and too proud to succumb totally to the flames' 
destroying energy. Gaunt and hollow-eyed, the old 
Tartar tower surveys the scene somewhat contemptu- 
ously, as if saying that the pigmy men of to-day are far 
removed from the paladins of old and their works. . . . 

Quiet and perfectly silent it all looks but below the 
tower, and, indeed, on all sides as far as the eyes can 
see, some search shows little ants of men are at work 
in the ruins not moving much, but bobbing up and 
down with unending energy and regularity. They are 
the beggars of Peking in their hundreds and thousands 
salving what they can from all this immense destruction 
by poking deep holes into the ruins and pulling out all 
manner of things from under the mass of bricks and 
rubbish. In the conserving hands of the Chinaman 
nothing is ever irremediably destroyed. . . . 

Looking far to the east, even the Ha-ta Gate, where no 
harm has been done, does not show much movement. 
The carts passing in and out are very few and far be- 
tween, and the dust which in ordinary times floats above 
the din and roar of the gates in heavy clouds is to-day 
seemingly absent. Even our Peking dust is awed by 
the approaching storm and nestles close to Mother 
Earth, so that it may come to no harm. 

The more I looked the more observant I became. The 
sun lolling up in a red ball, the birds, twittering and fly- 
ing about while the heat of the day is not severe, showed 
themselves in a new light; and thus the aoth June is ush- 



98 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

ered in so complaisantly, when all the world of men 
appear merely tired and watchful, that the contrast makes 
one wonder, and at nine o'clock once more our Ministers 
Plenipotentiary and our Charges d* Affaires gather their 
eleven estimable persons together at the Legation of the 
doyen. For yesterday's Ministerial reply agreeing to 
the Manchu order to vacate the capital, if certain con- 
ditions were fulfilled, had begged for an urgent answer 
by nine o'clock regarding the little counter-demands for 
a time-extension, and a definite arrangement concerning 
the Chinese troops who are to be the safe conduct along 
the Tientsin road. Nine o'clock has come, but alas! 
with it there is no neat Chinese despatch on striped pa- 
per which would so relieve our Ministerial feelings. The 
Chinese Government remains grimly silent, for the Chi- 
nese Government has spoken plainly once, and never 
within the memory of man has it done so on two con- 
secutive occasions. So the eleven Ministers meet once 
more in anything but a happy frame of mind eleven 
sorely tried and wholly fearful persons, except for two 
or three who vainly try to instil some courage into the 
others. All idea of completing the packing commenced 
last night has vanished; even that would demand action 
and resolution. A proposal to visit the Tsung-li Yamen 
in a body is set aside with nervous protestations once 
more. The meeting thereupon became very stormy, 
and the French Minister was kind enough to report 
afterwards that the British Minister became thereafter 
very red il est devenu soudainement tres rouge, for, 

what reason is unknown. S , who did the minutes 

afterwards, said that the French Minister volunteered 
to go with the others if they would proceed in a body, 
>and became very pale at the idea, that he confessed 



THE DEBACLE BEGINS 99 

himself. Here we have, then, a red Minister and 
a white Minister, and if we add those who were most 
certainly blue and green, the national flags of the entire 
assembly could be fitly made up. The French Minister, 
although simply a dtoyen sent by the Republic to in- 
trigue in times of peace, and aid his Russian colleague 
to the best of his ability, is a man withal, although quite 
unfitted de carriere for wars and sieges. In the French 
Legation he has been receiving such tearful instructions 
from his wife during the past three weeks that it is a 
wonder he has any backbone at all. . . . 
The meeting became stormier and stormier as it went 

on, S says, until old C argued that the only 

way to decide was to put everything to the vote. Every 
vote put was promptly lost, and after an hour's hag- 
gling they had got no farther than at the beginning ! 

The dramatic moment came when Baron Von K 

got up and stated shortly that as he had a previous ap- 
pointment with the Tsung-li Yamen at eleven o'clock, in 
spite of the ultimatum and a possible state of war In 
fact, in spite of everything it was his intention to keep 
his appointment, cost what it might. The others urged 
him not to go, for they must have been feeling rather 
ashamed of themselves and their overvalued lives. But 

K insisted he would go ; he had said so once, and 

did not intend to allow the Chinese Government to say 
he broke an appointment through fear. 

S , who told me the whole story a few hours after- 
wards, said that he added that as soon as his own per- 
sonal business was finished, he would attend to the 
general question of the Legations' departure from Pe- 
king, if the diplomatic corps would give him authority. 
As time was pressing they gave it to him promptly 



100 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

enough. I remember everything that happened after- 
wards with a very extraordinary accuracy of detail, 
because I had just walked past the Spanish Legation 
when the Ministerial meeting broke up, and I had deter- 
mined to follow any move in person so as to know what 
our fate was to be. 

The German Minister turned into his Legation, and 
after a time he reappeared in his green and red official 
chair, with C , the dragoman, in a similar convey- 
ance. There were only two Chinese outriders with 

them, as Von K had refused to take any of his 

guards. I remember Von K was smoking and lean- 
ing his arms on the front bar of his sedan, for all the 
world as if he were going on a picnic. The little cortege 
soon turned a corner and was swallowed up. I walked 
out some distance beyond our barricades with Baron 

R , of the Russian Legation, and we wondered how 

long he would take to come back. We soon knew! 
How terrible that was ! For not more than fifteen min- 
utes passed before, crashing their Manchu riding-sticks 
terror-stricken on to their ponies' hides, the two outriders 
appeared alone in a mad gallop and nearly rode us 
down. Through the barricades they passed, yelling des- 
perately. It was impossible to understand what they 
were saying, but disaster was written in the air. 

At this we started running after these two men, but 
when we reached the corner of the French Legation the 
people there had already understood, and said the 
German Minister had been shot down and was stone- 
dead. Everybody was paralysed. 

Meanwhile the outriders had reached the German 
Legation and had flung themselves, disordered, from 
their sweating ponies. The men of the Legation Guard 



THE DEBACLE BEGINS 101 

were swarming round them and questioning them 
roughly when I came up, but there was nothing further 

to be learned about Von K . A shot had passed 

through his chair and he had never moved again, while 

other shots struck all round. C , the dragoman, 

dripping with blood, had run round a corner closely pur- 
sued by Chinese riflemen. What happened to him they 
cannot say, for they, too, would have been shot had they 
not fled. The tragedy was so simple, but so crushing, 
that we all stood dazed. Our one man of character and 
decision was dead lost beyond recall ! 

A quarter of an hour after this half * the German de- 
tachment was marching rapidly down Customs Street, 
with fixed bayonets and an air of desperation on their 
harsh Teutonic faces. They were determined to try 
and at least save the body. I thought of going with 
them, too, but a moment's thought told me there were 
other things which were now more pressing. I went 
and gave some attention to the contents of despatch- 
boxes which no one else had a right to see. . . . 

The detachment reached the scene of the murder led 
by a trembling outrider. Drops of blood were found 
on the ground ; the Peking dust was scraped this way and 
that, as if it had only been made an accomplice unwill- 
ingly and with a violent struggle too; but the sedan- 
chairs, the bearers, the murderous soldiers, and every 
other trace had vanished completely. To question 
people was impossible, since every one was keeping 
closely indoors and barred entrances everywhere met the 
eye. The Peking streets have become so lonely and 
deserted that not even a dog allows himself to be en- 
trapped in the open. Later I heard that C had 

escaped, although terribly wounded. 



102 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

The detachment tramped back stolidly, and would not 
answer a word when spoken to, for German despair is 
very gloomy. The remaining Plenipotentiaries at last 
understood the nature of the game that was being played, 
and realised that we were down to the naked and crude 
facts of life and death. Their confounded vacillation 
has alone brought us to this pass. They do realise it 
now, and they are made to realise it more and more by 
the savage looks every one has been giving them. . . . 

The departure for Tientsin half-acquiesced in but fif- 
teen short hours ago is no longer thought of, for what 
the Ministers propose to do now interests no one. 
After impotently attempting to deal with questions for 
which they were in no wise fitted they have resigned 
themselves to the inevitable, and have become mere 
pawns like the rest of us. Fortunately the men who are 
men begin to work with frenzied energy, rushing about 

collecting food and materials. S , the first Secretary 

of the American Legation, began it, and soon stood out 
with some insistence. He guesses with no one contra- 
dicting him that rice is useful, that flour is still more use- 
ful, and that every pound we can find in the native shops 
should be taken. The obvious is often somewhat ob- 
scure in times like these, and the men who act are very 
laudable. There is no denying it that on this 2Oth the 
Americans showed more energy than anybody else, and 
pushed everybody to sending out their carts and bring- 
ing in tons upon tons of food. Every shop containing 
grain was raided, payment being made in some cases and 
in others postponed to a more propitious moment. The 
American missionaries concentrated in a fortified mis- 
sionary compound a couple of miles from us, and the 
last people to remain outside were hastily sent for, 



THE DEBACLE BEGINS 103 

given twenty minutes in which to pack their things, and 
marched in as quickly as possible by a guard of Ameri- 
can marines. There were seventy white men, women 
and children, and- countless herds of native schoolgirls 
and converts. Their reports were the last we got. Vast 
crowds of silent people had watched them pass through 
the eastern Tartar city to our Legation lines without 
comment or without hostility. Gloomily the Peking 
crowd must have watched this strange convoy 
curling its way to a safer place, the mission- 
aries armed in a droll fashion with Remingtons 
and revolvers, and some of the converts carry- 
ing pikes and carving-knives in their hands, for the 
Peking crowd and Peking itself has been, and is being, 
terrorised by the Boxers and the Manchu extremists, 
and is not really allied to them of that we all are now 

convinced. But C , who was so nearly massacred, 

came in too with the American missionaries. He man- 
aged somehow, after he was shot in a deadly place, to 
half-run and half-crawl until he was picked up and car- 
ried into the American missionary compound. From 
what I heard, he knows nothing more about the death 
of the German Minister. It was only a few hours ago, 
and yet it already seems days ! 

All the non-combatants were now rushed into the Brit- 
ish Legation, and to the women and children join them- 
selves dozens of men, whose place should be in the fight- 
ing-line, but who have no idea of being there. Lines of 
carts conveying stores, clothing, trunks and miscella- 
neous belongings were soon pouring towards the British 
Legation, and long before nightfall the spacious com- 
pounds were so crowded with impedimenta and masses 
of human beings that one could hardly move there. It 
was a memorable and an extraordinary sight. 



104 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

The few Chinese shops that had been until now carry- 
ing on business in our Legation quarter in spite of the 
semi-siege and the barricades in a furtive way, were 
soon quietly putting up their shuttersnot entirely > but 
what they call three-quarters shut after the custom on 
their New Year holidays, when they are not supposed 
to trade, but do trade all the same. The shop-boys, 
slipping their arms into their long coats and dusting off 
their trousers and shoes after the Peking manner with 
their long sleeves, made one feel in a rather laughable 
sort of way that finality had been reached I They had 
that curious half-laugh on their faces which signifies an 
intense nervousness being politely concealed. Up to 
three o'clock these complaisant shopmen were still sell- 
ing things at a purely nominal price, which was not en- 
tered in the books, but quietly pocketed by them for 
their own benefit. Having completed my own arrange- 
ments, I began idly watching their actions, they were 
so curious. At three o'clock sharp the last shutters went 
up, the last shopman pasted a diamond-shaped Fu, or 
Happiness, of red paper over the wooden bars, and van- 
ished silently and mysteriously. It was for all the world 
once again exactly like the telegraph-operator in 
"Michael Strogoff," when the Tartars smash in the 
front doors of his office and seize the person of the hero, 
while the clerk coolly takes up his hat and disappears 
through a back door. These Chinese had done business 
in the very same way, until the very last moment the 
very last. 

And not only are the few shopmen slipping away, but 
also numbers of others within our lines who had been 
half-imprisoned during the past week by our barricades 
and incessant patrolling. Men, women, and children, 



THE DEBACLE BEGINS 105 

each with a single blue-cloth bundle tied across their 
backs containing a few belongings, slip away; gliding, 
as it were, rapidly across the open spaces where a shot 
could reach them, and scuttling down mysterious back 
alleys and holes in the walls, the existence of which has 
been unknown to most of us. This time the rats are 
leaving the sinking ship quietly and silently, for a quiet 
word passed round had informed every one of what is 
coming, and no one wishes to be caught. This is the sort 
of silent play I love to watch. 

Just before this, however, down beyond the Austrian 
Legation came a flourish of hoarse-throated trumpets 
those wonderful Chinese trumpets. Blare, blare, in a 
half-chorus they first hang on a high note; then suddenly 
tumbling an octave, they roar a bassoon-like challenge in 
unison like a lot of enraged bulls. Nearer and nearer, 
as if challenging us with these hoarse sounds, came a 
large body of soldiery; we could distinctly see the bright 
cluster of banners round the squadron commander. 
Pushing through the clouds of dust which floated high 
above them, the horses and their riders appeared and 
skirted the edge of our square. We noted the colour 
of their tunics and the blackness of the turbans. Two 
horsemen who dismounted for some reason, swung 
themselves rapidly into their saddles, carbine in hand, 
and galloped madly to rejoin their comrades in a very 
significant way. For a moment they half turned and 
waved their Mannlichers at us, showing their breast- 
circle of characters. They were the soldiers of savage 
Tung Fu-hsiang, and were going west that is, into the 
Imperial city. The manner in which they so coolly 
rode past fifty yards away must have frightened some 
one, for when I passed here an hour later the Austrian 



106 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Legation and its street defences had been suddenly aban- 
doned by our men. We had surrendered, without strik- 
ing a blow, a quarter of our ground! I remember that 
I was only mildly interested at this; everything was so 
bouleverse and curious that a little more could not mat- 
ter. It was like in a dream. Tramping back, the Aus- 
trian sailors crowded into the French Legation and all 
round their lines and threw themselves down. One man 
was so drunk from lack of sleep that he tumbled on the 
ground and could not be made to move again. Every- 
body kicked him, but he was dead-finished and could be 
counted out. This was beginning our warfare cheer- 
fully. 

On top of the Austrians a lot of volunteers came in at 
a double, very angry, and cursing the Austrians for a 
retreat which was only discovered by them by chance. 
Like so many units in war-time, these volunteers had 
been forgotten along a line of positions which could 
have been held for days. Nobody could give any ex- 
planation excepting that Captain T , the Austrian 

commander, said that he was not going to sacrifice his 
men and risk being cut off, when there was nobody in 
command over the whole area. T was very ex- 
cited, and did not seem to realise one thing of immense 
importance that half our northeastern defences have 
been surrendered without a shot being fired. 

At the big French barricades facing north an angry 
altercation soon began between the French and Austrian 
commanders. The French line of barricades was but the 
third line of defence here, and only the streets had been 
fortified, not the houses ; but by the Austrian retreat it 
had become the first, and the worn-out French sailors 
would have hastily to do more weary fatigue-work cart- 



THE DEBACLE BEGINS 107 

ing more materials to strengthen this contact point. I 
remember I began to get interested in the discussion, 
when I found that there was an unfortified alley leading 
right into the rear of this. It would be easy at night- 
time to rush the whole line. 

Meanwhile nobody knew what was going to happen. 
All the Ministers, their wives and belongings, and the 
secretaries and nondescripts had disappeared into the 
British Legation, and the sailors and the volunteers 
became more and more bitter with rage. A number of 
young Englishmen belonging to the Customs volunteers 
began telling the French and Austrian sailors that we 
had been trahis, in order to make them swear louder. I 
know that it was becoming funny, because it was so ab- 
surd when . . . bang-ping, bang-ping, came three or 
four scattered shots from far down the street beyond the 
Austrian Legation. It was just where Tung Fu-hsiang's 
men had passed. That stopped us talking, and as I took 
a wad of waste out of the end of my rifle I looked at my 
watch 3.49 exactly, or eleven minutes too soon. I ran 
forward, pushing home the top cartridge on my clip, 

but I was too late. "A quatrecents metres" L , the 

French commander, called, and then a volley was loosed 
off down that long dusty street our first volley of the 
siege. 

Our barricades were full of men here, and it was no 
use trying to push in. I postponed my own shooting, 
for after a brisk fusillade here, urgent summons came 
from other quarters, and I had to rush away. . . . The 
siege had begun in earnest. I record these things just 
as they seemed to happen. We are so tired, my account 
cannot seem very sensible. Yet it is the truth. 



PART II -THE SIEGE 
I 

CHAOS 

2ist June, 1900. 



I passed the night in half a dozen different places, 
assimilating all there was to assimilate; gazing and 
noting the thousand things there were to be seen and 
heard, and sleeping exactly three hours. Few people 
would believe the extraordinary condition to which 
twelve hours of chaos can reduce a large number of 
civilised people who have been forced into an unnatural 
life. It is indeed extraordinary. Half the Legations 
are abandoned, excepting for a few sailors; others are 
being evacuated, and most people have even none of the 
necessities of life with them. For instance, at eight 
o'clock I discovered that I had had no breakfast, and 
on finding that it would be impossible for me to get any 
for some hours, I forthwith became so ravenously 
hungry that I determined I would steal some if neces- 
sary. What a position for a budding diplomatist! 

Fortunately I thought of the Hotel de Pekin before I 

had done anything startling, and soon C , the genial 

and energetic Swiss, who is the master of this wonderful 
hostelry, had given me coffee. He told me then to go 
into his private rooms, ransack the place and take what I 
liked. I found I was not alone in his private apartments. 



CHAOS 109 

Baron R , the Russian commandant, had just come 

in before me, and had fallen asleep from sheer fatigue 
as he was in the act of eating something. He looked so 
ridiculous lying in a chair with his mouth wide open and 
his sword and revolver mixed up with the things he had 
been eating, that I began laughing loudly, and, aroused 
by this sound, two more men appeared suddenly Mar- 
quis P , the cousin of the Italian charge^ and K , 

the Dutch Minister. What they were doing there I did 
not inquire. The Dutch Minister was in a frightful 
rage at everything and everybody, and began talking so 

loudly that R woke up, and commenced eating 

again in the most natural way in the world, without 
saying a single word. As soon as he had finished he 
went to sleep again. He was plainly a man of some 
character; the whole position was so ridiculous and yet 
he paid no attention. 

I soon got tired of this, as plenty of other people now 
came in, all calling for food, and I was really so weary 
from lack of sleep and proper rest that I could not 
remember what they were talking about two seconds 
after they had finished speaking. Most of the men were 
angry at the "muddle," as they called it, and said it was 
hopeless going on this way. One of the Austrian mid- 
shipmen told me that there had been altogether very 
little firing, and not more than a few dozen Chinese 
skirmishers engaged, but that the whole northern and 
eastern fronts of our square were so imperfectly 
garrisoned that they could be rushed in a few minutes. 
Everybody agreed with him, but nobody appeared 
to know who was in supreme command, or 
who was responsible for a distribution of our 
defending forces, which would total at least six 



110 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

hundred or seven hundred men if every able- 
bodied man was forced into the fighting-line. For- 
tunately the Chinese Government appears to be hesitat- 
ing again ; we have been all driven into our square and 
can be safely left there for the time being that seems 
to be the point of view. 

I now became anxious about a trunk containing a few 
valuables, which I had sent into the British Legation, 
and I determined to go in person and see how things 
were looking there. What confusion ! I soon learned 
that it had been very gay at the British Legation during 
the night. At four o'clock of the previous afternoon, 
when the first shots had already been dropping in at the 
northern and eastern defences, not a thing had been 
done in the way of barricading and sandbagging that 
everybody admitted. The flood of people coming in 
from the other Legations, almost weeping and wailing, 
had driven them half insane. At the Main Gate, a 
majestic structure of stone and brick, a few sandbags 
had actually been got together, as if suggesting that 
later on something might be done. But for the time 
being this Legation, where all the women and children 
have rushed for safety, is quite defenceless. Yet 
it has long been an understood thing that it was to 
become the general base. It was not surprising, then, 
that at six in the evening yesterday a tragedy had 
occurred within eyesight of everybody at the Main Gate. 
A European, who afterwards turned out to be Professor 
J of the Imperial University, an eccentric of pro- 
nounced type, had attempted to cross the north bridge, 
which connects the extreme north of Prince Su's palace 
walls with a road passing just one hundred yards from 
the British Sfegation northern wall, and perhaps three 



CHAOS 111 

hundred yards from the Main Gate itself. It was seen 
that the European was running, onlookers told me, and 
that after him came a Chinese brave in full war-paint, 
with his rifle at the trail. Instead of charging his men 
down the street to save this wretched man, the British 

officer, Captain W , ordered the Main Gate to be 

closed, and everybody to go inside except himself and 
his file of marines. He then commanded volley-firing, 
apparently at the pink walls of the Imperial city, which 
form a background to the bridge, although he might as 
well have ordered musical drill Meanwhile the un- 
fortunate J was caught half way across the stone 

bridge by some other Chinese snipers, who had been 
lying concealed there all the time behind some piles of 
stones. He was hit several times, though not killed, as 
several people swear they saw him crawling down into 
the canal bed on his hands and knees. Volley-firing con- 
tinued at the Main Gate, and the aforesaid British 
officer cursed himself into a fever of rage over his men. 

Even when J had finally disappeared, no steps were 

taken to see what had become of him; he was calmly 
reported lost. This was the opening of the ball at the 
British Legation. 

No sooner was it dark than M , the chief, appeared 

on the scenes, smoking a cigarette reminiscent of his 
Egyptian campaign, and clad in orthodox evening dress. 
This completed every one's anger, but the end was not 
yet. At ten in the evening a scare developed among the 
women, and it was decided to begin fortifying some of 
the more exposed points. Everybody who could be 
found was turned on to this work, but in the dark little 
progress could be made excepting in removing all possi- 
bility of any one going to sleep. 



112 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

But the sublimely ridiculous was reached in an out-of- 
the-way building facing the canal, an incident displaying 
Wen more than anything else the attitude of some of the 
personnel of our missions to China. Sleeping peacefully 
in his nice pyjamas under a mosquito net was found a 
sleek official of the London Board of Works, who 
wanted to know what was meant by waking him up in 
the middle of the night. Investigations elsewhere found 
other members of this Legation asleep in their beds; 
everybody said the young men were all right, but those 
above a certain age . . . ! 

The night thus spent itself very uneasily. They were 
only learning what should have been known days before. 

When day broke in the British Legation things had 
seemed more impossible than ever. Orders and counter- 
orders came from every side ; the place was choked with 
women, missionaries, puling children, and whole hosts 
of lamb-faced converts, whose presence in such close 
proximity was intolerable. Heaven only knew how the 
matter would end. The night before people had been 
only too glad to rush frantically to a place of safety; 
with daylight they remembered that they were terribly 
uncomfortable that this might have to go on for days 
or for weeks. It is very hard to die uncomfortably. I 
thought then that things would never be shaken into 
proper shape. 

In this wise has our siege commenced; with all the men 
angry and discontented; with no responsible head; with 
the one man among those high-placed dead; with hun- 
dreds of converts crowding us at every turn in a word, 
with everything just the natural outcome of the vacilla- 
tion and ignorance displayed during the past weeks by 
thole who should have been the leaders. Fortunately, 



CHAOS 11$ 

as I have already said, so far there has been no fighting 
or no firing worth speaking of. Only along the French 
and Italian barricades, facing east and north, a dropping 
fire has continued since yesterday, and one Frenchman 
has been shot through the head and one Austrian 
wounded* It is worth while noting, now that I think of 
it, that the French, the Italians, the Germans, and, of 

course, the Austrians, have accepted Captain T , 

the cruiser captain, as their commander-in-chief, and that 
the Japanese have signified their willingness to do so, 
too, as soon as the British and Americans do likewise. 
Thus already there are signs that a pretty storm is brew- 
ing over this question of a responsible commander ; and, 
of course, so long as things remain as they are at present, 
there can be no question of an adequate defence. Each 
detachment is acting independently and swearing at all 
the others, excepting the French and Austrians, for the 
good reason that as the Austrians have taken refuge in 
the French lines they must remain polite. Half the 
officers are also at loggerheads; volunteers have been 
roaming about at will and sniping at anything they have 
happened to see moving in the distance ; ammunition is 
being wasted; there are great gaps in our defences, which 
any resolute foe could rush in five minutes were they so 
inclined ; there is not a single accurate map of the area 
we have to defend ! 

All this I discovered in the course of the morning, and 
by afternoon I had nothing better to do than go over 
to the great Su wang-fu, or Prince Su's palace grounds, 
now filled with Chinese refugees, both Catholic and 
Protestant, and there watch the Japanese at work. The 
Japanese Legation is squashed in between Prince Su's 
palace grounds and buildings and the French Legation 



114 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

lines, and, consequently, to be on the outer rim of our 
defences the little Japanese have been shifted north and 
now hold the northeast side of our quadrilateral. Prince 
Su, together with his various wives and concubines and 
their eunuchs, has days ago fled inside the Imperial city, 
abandoning this palace with its valuables to the tender 
mercies of the first comers; and thus the Japanese sailor 
detachment, reinforced by a couple of dozen Japanese 
and other volunteers, has made itself free with every- 
thing, and is holding an immense line of high walls, 
requiring at least five hundred men to be made tolerably 
safe. But they have an extraordinary little fellow in 

command, Colonel S , the military attache. He is 

awkward and stiff-legged, as are most Japanese, but he 
is very much in earnest, and already understands exactly 
what he can do and what he cannot. After a search of 
many hours, I found here the first evidences of system. 
This little man, working quietly, is reducing things to 
order, and In the few hours which have gone by since 
the dreadful occurrences of yesterday he has succeeded 
in attending to the thousand small details which de- 
manded his attention. He is organising his dependents 
into a little self-contained camp ; he is making the hordes 
of converts come to his aid and strengthen his lines ; in 
fact, he is doing everything that he should do. Already 
I honour this little man; soon I feel I shall be his slave. 
But not only is there order within these Japanese lines ; 
attempts are being made to find out what is going on 
beyond that is, to discover what is being done in this 
deserted corner of the city, which is abandoned to the 
European. Although all is quiet without, it is not pos- 
sible that every one has fled, because some rifle-firing is 
going on. ... When I arrived the Japanese had 



CHAOS 115 

already discovered that a Chinese camp had been quietly 
established less than a quarter of a mile away. Half an 
hour afterwards a breathless Japanese sailor brought in 
a report that snipers had been seen stealthily approach- 
ing. I was just in the nick of time, as Colonel S 

immediately decided on a reconnaissance in force; any 
one who liked could go. Would I go ? 

We slipped out under command of the colonel himself 
and worked through tortuous lanes down towards the 
abandoned Customs Inspectorate and the Austrian Lega- 
tion. We reached the rear of the Customs compounds 
without a sound being heard or a living thing seen. All 
along hundreds of yards of twisting alleyways the native 
houses stood empty and silent, abandoned by their own- 
ers just as they are. Even the Peking dog, a cur of great 
ferocity, who in peaceful times abounds everywhere and 
is the terror of our riding-parties, had fled, as if driven 
away by the fear of the coming storm. In the distance, 
as we stealthily moved, we could hear an occasional 
rattle of musketry, probably directed against the French 
Legation and the Italian barricade, where it has been 
going on for twenty-four hours; but so isolated is one 
street in Peking from the rest by the high walls of the 
numberless compounds and the thick trees which inter- 
cept all sounds that we could be certain of nothing. 
Perhaps the firing was not even the enemy at work, 
whoever he may be ; it might be our men. . . . 

But directly in front of us all was still, and just as we 
thought of stealing on, a Japanese whispered "Hush," 
and pointed a warning finger. We flattened ourselves 
against houses and scurried into open doors. Suddenly 
it was getting exciting. Down another lane then came a 
noisy sound of feet, incautiously pattering on the hard 



116 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

ground to the accompaniment of some raucous talk. It 
is the very devil in this network of lanes and blind alleys 
which twist round the Legations, and no force could 
properly patrol them. . . . 

Without any warning two men came round the corner, 
peering everywhere with sharp eyes and bobbing up and 
down. Simultaneously with the sob of surprise they 
gave our rifles crashed off. And this time, owing to the 
short range and the Japanese warning, we got them fair 
and square, and both of them rolled over. But no, one 
fellow jumped to his feet again, and before we could 
stop him was down another lane like a flash of lightning. 
We promptly gave chase, yelling blue murder in an 
incautious manner, which might have brought hundreds 
of the enemy on our heels. But we did not care. Round 
a corner, as we followed the man up, a high wall rose 
sheer, but nothing daunted, the fellow took a tremen- 
dous leap, and by the aid of the lattice-work on a 
window, climbed to a roof. Then bang, bang, bang, 
seven shots went at him rapidly, one after another. In 
spite of the volley the man still crawled upwards, but 
as he reached the top of the low house and passed his 
legs over he gave a feeble moan and then . . . 
flopper-ti flop, flopper-ti flop, he crashed down the other 
side and ended with a dull thud on the ground. On the 
other side there he was dead as a door-nail and all 
covered with blood. It was our first proper work. But 
he was not a soldier, he was a Boxer; and in place of the 
former incomplete attire of red sashes and strings, this 
true patriot wore a long red tunic edged with blue, and 
had his head tied up in the regulation bonnet rouge of 
the French Revolution. Round his waist he had also 
girded on a blue cartridge-belt of cloth, with great thick 



CHAOS 117 

Martini bullets jammed into the thumb holes. This we 
thought very curious at the time, as the Boxers were sup- 
posed to laugh at firearms. Elated by this little affair, 
we pushed on, and came upon other men working round 
our lines in small bands, and exchanged shots with them. 
All were Boxers in this new uniform ; but although we 
tried to entice them on and corner them in houses, they 
were too cunning for us, and broke back each time. In 
the end we had so stirred up this hornets' nest that the 
scattered firing became more and more persistent, and 
stern orders came for us to fall back. 

We came in feeling elated, but Colonel S was 

looking serious, for he had discovered that the extent of 
Prince Su's outer walls, which have to be held in their 
entirety, is so much greater than was expected, and every 
part can be so easily attacked from the outside, that the 
task is desperate. There are less than fifty men in all 
for these long Japanese lines, and if we take more from 
elsewhere it will be merely creating fresh gaps. . . . 
Decidedly it is not enticing. The whole line from the 
north right round to the south, where the Japanese, 
French, Austrians, Italians and Germans are distributed, 
ending on the Tartar Wall itself, is terribly weak. And 
as I began to understand this, an hour after this after- 
noon adventure I became quite gloomy at the outlook. 

Everything, indeed, was upside down. Matters in the 
British Legation were not improving, and the fighting 
air which exists elsewhere Is not to be found here. Men, 
women and children; ponies, mules and packing-cases; 
sandbags and Ministers Plenipotentiary are still all en- 
gaged in attempting to sort themselves out and keep 
distinct from one another. Already the British Legation 
has surrendered itself, not to the enemy, but to com- 



118 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

mittees. There are general committees, food com- 
mittees, fortifications committees, and what other com- 
mittees I do not know, except that American missionaries, 
who appear at least to have more energy than any one 
else, are practically ruling them. This is all very well 
in its way, but it is curious to see that dozens of able- 
bodied men, armed with rifles, are hiding away in 
corners so that they shall not be drafted away to the 
outer defences. Everywhere a contemptible spirit is 
being displayed, because a feeling prevails that there are 
no responsible chiefs in whom absolute trust can be 
placed. A pleasant mess in all truth. It is now 
every one for himself and nobody looking after the 
others. . . . 

Some of the people, however, have begun dividing 
themselves up, and now are billeted, nationality by 
nationality, in separate quarters. But many persons 

seem lost and distraught H , the great director of 

Chinese affairs, was sitting on an old mattress looking 

quite paralysed; P , his counterpart in the Russian 

bank, was striding about excitedly and muttering to him- 
self. The Belgian Legation has disappeared entirely; 
whether they have run away or been lost in the con- 
fusion I could not for the life of me tell. What a posi- 
tion, what a condition! Already it is a great feat to 
be on speaking terms with a dozen people, and if we 
could only instil some of the savageness we all feel 
towards one another into our defence, it would become 
so vigorous and unconquerable that not all the legions 
of the Boxer Empire, massed in serried ranks, could 
break in on us. But this very defence, which should 
be so determined, is the most half-hearted thing imagi- 
nable. It has no real leader, and merely resolves itself 



CHAOS 119 

into the old policy of each Legation holding its own In 
an irregular half-circle round the British Legation, 
which itself is a mass of disorder. I feel certain that if 
we have a night attack at once the Chinese will break 
in with the greatest ease, and then . . . Tant pis! 
The last thing I saw in the British Legation was 

M , the great correspondent, sitting on a great 

stack of his books, looking wearily around him. His 
former energy and resolution have all departed, sapped 
by the spectacle of extraordinary incompetence around 
him. Of what good has all that rescuing of native 
Christians been all that energy in dragging them 
more dead than alive into our lines in the face of 
Ministerial opposition, when we cannot even protect 
ourselves? But just when I began this moralising, the 
hundred and fifty mules and ponies that have been col- 
lected together all broke loose, frightened by some stray 
shots, and went careering madly around us. It was 
pitch dark and most gloomy before they had been all 
tied up again, and although firing became heavier and 
heavier as Chinese snipers found they could approach 
our outer lines in safety, I finally sought out a spot for 
myself and fell asleep with my rifle on my chest curs- 
ing everybody. It is a sign of the times my nerves 
are becoming Ministerial! 



II 

THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 

23d June, 1900. 



Yesterday the inevitable happened, and only Heaven 
and the foolishness of the attacking forces, who are 
only playing with us, and do not seem to have settled 
down to their work, saved us from complete annihila- 
tion. Without a word of explanation, Captain T , 

the Austrian commander, suddenly ordered all the 
French, Italians and Austrians to fall back on the Brit- 
ish Legation, sending word meanwhile to the Japanese 
and the Germans to follow his example. This meant 
that the whole vast semicircle to the northeast and the 
southeast was being thrown up. The result was that 
for ten minutes armed men of all nationalities poured 
into the British Legation, until every rifle-bearing effec- 
tive was standing there, all jabbering in a mass, and not 
knowing what it was all about. The Americans, who 
had established themselves on the Tartar Wall as the 
main point in the western defence, guessed they were 
not going to be left there cut off from salvation by a 
failure to remember their existence ; and presently they, 
too, ran in, openly swearing at their officers. These 
American marines have never quite liked this idea of 
being planted on the Tartar Wall ; for with that smart- 
ness for which their race is distinguished, they see it is 
quite on the cards that they are forgotten up there if a 



THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 121 

rush occurs while the others are sitting safe in the main 
base. And the Americans are not going to be forgotten 
we soon found that out. They are the people of the 
future. 

'Depict to yourself, if you can, the blind fear of all the 
Plenipotentiaries, of all the missionaries and their lamb- 
faced converts, on seeing the gallant defenders of the 
outer lines rushing in on them at a fast trot, and then 
falling into line and standing very much at ease awaiting 
the next move. I may be brutal, but I relished that 
scene a little ; it was a lesson that was sadly needed. It 
was the British Minister who remained the most calm; 
perhaps he immediately understood that the game was 
now in his hands. But the other Ministers, I wish you 
could have but seen them! They crowded round his 
British Excellency in an adoring and trembling ring, and 
without subterfuge offered him the supreme command; 
that was exactly what we had been expecting. Under- 
neath their manner you could easily see they meant to 
say that they knew it was the British Legation in which 
they had taken refuge ; that they had had enough of all 
these alarums and excursions; and that so long as they 
were left in peace they did not care about the rest. 
What mean little people we are in this world! The 
French, the Russian, the Italian and the Japanese 
Ministers were the first to act thus, and as they repre- 
sented a majority of the detachments, the others who 
had Legation Guards had pretty well to follow suit, 
whether they liked it or not, and some did not like it, 

as I shall show hereafter. M had been hinting 

very plainly that he had been in a kilted regiment, and 
that the British Legation was the hub of the defence 
the asylum for all ; and so with a satisfied smile, he was 



122 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

pleased to accept the proffered appointment. Yet it was 
one only in name. For just as he was writing out his 
first ordre du jour the various Plenipotentiaries showed 
their appreciation of the office they had conferred on 
him by ordering, each one of them separately, their 
respective detachments to return to their respective 
Legations so hurriedly abandoned. So the sailors and 
the marines, and the fighting volunteers who bear them 
company, bundled back to the outer lines and barricades 
again, finding all just as it had been before, except that 
the Italian Legation was in flames and the Italian barri- 
cades therefore useless. The snipers had found that 
they could suddenly work in peace, and had thrown 
blazing torches. Four Legations are now destroyed 
and abandoned, for the Belgian, the Austrian and the 
Dutch have all gone up in flames at different times dur- 
ing the last days. Seven Legations remain and ten 
Ministers. 

The defence is thus getting into reasonable limits, and 
so long as our attacks are confined to what they have 
been up till now, we may really pull through. Incen- 
diary fires round the outer lines, lighted by means of 
torches stuck on long poles, a heavy rifle-fire poured into 
the most exposed barricades by an unseen enemy, and 
very occasionally a faint-hearted rush forward, which a 
fusillade on our part turns into a rout these have so 
far been the dangers with which we have had to contend. 
But the very worst feature of the defence is that no 
one trusts the neighbouring detachment sufficiently to be- 
lieve that it will stand firm under all circumstances and 
not abandon its ground; consequently this fear that a 
sudden breakdown along some barricades will allow of 
an inrush of Chinese troops and Boxers makes men fight 



THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 123 

all the time with their eyes over their shoulders, which 
is the very worst way of fighting I can possibly imagine. 
And another hardly less important point is that the bur- 
den is not evenly apportioned, and that the men know it. 
For instance, the British Legation, which is as yet not 
in the slightest exposed, is full of able-bodied men doing 
nothing whereas on the outer lines of the other Lega- 
tions many men are so dead with sleep that they can 
hardly sit awake two hours. It can easily be seen from 
the rude sketches I have made and re-made, what I 
mean. I have been over every inch on my own legs; 
there can be no mistake. 

From the main sketch you will see that the holding of 
the Tartar Wall, together with the American and Rus- 
sian Legations, protects the British Legation effectively 
from the south and partially from the west; that the 
Franco-German-Austrian lines, and the Su wang-fu, 
with the Japanese, mask the east; and that of the other 
two sides on which the British Legation walls and out- 
buildings really constitute the actual defence line directly 
in touch with the enemy, the Imperial Carriage Park, a 
vast grass-grown area with but half a dozen yellow- 
roofed buildings in it, makes the western approaches 
very difficult to attack, since they are easily swept by our 
rifle-fire; and that the northern side is so filled with 
buildings belonging to the Chinese Government (which 
it now seems cannot be destroyed) , that I do not appre- 
hend attacks here. The only real dangers to the British 
Legation in any case are these two corners to the north 
and the southwest. . . . 

Passing over to the Su wang-fu, you realise the extraor- 
dinary difference between the danger points along the 
British Legation northern and western barricades, and 



124 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

little Colonel S 's command. Here you are in direct 

touch with the enemy, for the snipers of forty-eight 
hours ago have been strongly reinforced, doubtless at- 
tracted by the possibility of loot. 

Soldiers and all sorts of banditti must have joined 
hands with the Boxers, for it is clear that every hour is 
mysteriously adding more and more men round our 
lines. You can hear the men talking, and you can see 
bricks moving but fifty or sixty yards from where you 
are squinting through a loophole as fresh barricades, 
that are gradually surrounding us in a vise which may 
yet crush us to death, are silently built. The forty or 
fifty Japanese, and the few volunteers who are with 
them, have now been reinforced by all the Italians, who 
have been given a big strip of outer wall and a fortified 
hillock in Prince Su's ornamental garden a hillock 
which commands a great stretch of territory, as territory 
goes in our wall-split area. For here in the Su wang-fu 
the number of walls and buildings is terrible, and Heaven 
only knows how seventy or eighty men can even make 
a pretence of holding such positions. First there is the 
great outer wall eighteen feet high and three feet thick. 
Then from this outer wall, other thick walls run in- 
wards at right angles, splitting up the place into little 
squares, in which as likely as not there will be a group of 
houses with great dragon-adorned roofs. Further 
towards the centre of the Fu is Prince Su's own palace 
and his retainers' quarters; to the south of this is an 
ornamental garden full of trees, a vast and mournful 
enclosure, standing in which the crack of outpost rifles 
can only be distantly heard. Moving across to the 
southern side that is, the side near the French Lega- 
tion and the protected Legation Street the Christian 



THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 125 

refugees are found gathered here in huge droves- In 
one building there are alone four hundred native school- 
girls, rows upon rows of them that never seem to come 
to an end, sitting on the ground in their sober blue coats 
and trousers, peacefully combing each other's hair, or 
working on sandbags with the imperturbability of the 
Easterner who is placid under death. Farther on, again, 
you come on families, sometimes three generations hud- 
dling together on a six-foot straw mat. A mother try- 
ing to feed a child from her half-dry breasts tells you 
quietly that it is no use, since the meagre fare she is 
already getting does not make sustenance enough for 
her, let alone her child. Yet everything possible is being 
done to feed them. All the able-bodied converts have 
long ago been drafted off for barricade-building and 
loophole-making in the endless walls, and here the curi- 
ous Japanese passion for order and detail is shown on 
the coats of the older men. The boss-shifts, each respon- 
sible for so many men who have to accomplish a given 
amount of work in a specified time, have big white labels 
with characters written squarely across them, telling 
every one clearly what they are. At a little table near 
by writers, who have been carefully sorted out from 
this incongruous gathering, are provided with brush and 
ink, and have been set to work making up reports and 
lists of all the people. These are handed to a Japanese 
Secretary of Legation, who has been evolved into an 
engineer-in-chief and overseer of native labour, and thus 
at every hour of the day the distribution of the barri- 
caders is known. Amid these crowds of native refugees, 
who number at least a couple of thousand peo- 
ple, two or three Japanese occasionally wander to see 
that all's well, and give the babies little things they have 



126 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

looted from Prince Su's palace to play with. Content 
to be where they are and assured that the European will 

not abandon them, these natives exhibit in a strange 
manner that inexplicable thing Faith. Poor people 
they little know ! Is it always thus with faith ? 

So the Su wang-fu, which is but the northwestern part 
of our lines, is now a city in itself, inhabited by the most 
unlikely people in the world. Three days have sufficed 
to give it an entity of its own. The nature of the de- 
fence and the fighting value of the Japanese as compared 
to the Italians, are fitly illustrated by the distribution of 

forces which little Colonel S has already made. 

The Italians hold perhaps a hundred feet of the outer 
wall and one hillock of some importance. The Japanese 
have at least a thousand feet of loopholed and unloop- 
holed wall, and are quite ready to take another thousand 
if some one would be kind enough to give it to them. In 
posts of three and four men, distant sometimes hundreds 
of feet apart, the little Japanese takes his two hours on 
and his four hours off night and day without a murmur 
or without ever a break. Only at one place are there 
more than three or four little men together. At the 
eastern end of the Fu there is a big post grouped round 
the fortified Main Gate, where there are actually eight 
or nine men under the command of a Japanese naval 
lieutenant. 

But the genius who has organised all this system, the 
little Japanese colonel, does not waste time walking 
around. He is at work at an eternal map decorated with 
green, blue and red spots, which show the distribution of 
his forces and their respective strength and fighting 
value. Somehow I could not tear myself away from 
this quarter. It was so orderly. . . 



THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 127 

Behind the commanding hillock in the Italian centre I 
found Lieutenant P , the Italian naval officer, din- 
ing off bread and Bologna sausage, which he was strip- 
ping after the Italian fashion, inelegantly using his 
knife both to punctuate his sentences and to assist the 
passage of his food. "Look out," he cried, as soon as 
I had appeared, "it is very warm here; the bullets are 
flying low." The leaves of the trees mider which he 
was sitting were indeed falling thickly, cut down by 
snipers' fire. But still I wish he would walk down to a 
Japanese post not more than five hundred feet away and 
watch a little Jap and a half dozen Chinese snipers at 
work against each other. That is where I had just 
been convoying some supplies. The little Japanese had 
ostentatiously placed his sailor cap just in front of 
an empty loophole twenty feet from where he actually 
squatted, and where he had probably been a few seconds 
before I had arrived. The snipers saw this and promptly 
fired, bang, bang, bang, a long line of shots following 
one after the other in quick succession. Hum! they 
must be reloading now, said the little Jap plainly by the 
expression on his face; and jumping straight on top of 
the wall in front of him he hastily snapped at one of his 
enemies. Then down he came again, but hardly quick 
enough, for bricks were dislodged all around him, and 
once he received one on the head. The little man 
rubbed his cranium ruefully, shook himself like a dog 
to get rid of the sting, and then with a little more cau- 
tion began his strange performance again. This Is what 
is going on all round the Japanese posts men bobbing 
up and firing rapidly, in some cases only fifty feet away 
from one another. The Italians are lying comfortably 
on their stomachs completely out of sight, and wildly 



128 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

volleying far too often. Already their ammunition is 
running low, although there is hardly any need really 
to reply at all to our enemies. They have crept closer, 
it fs true, and without surprising any one, or even causing 
notice, their numbers of riflemen have grown from hour 
to hour. Now I come to think of it, there must be many 
hundreds of men lying all round us and firing just as 
they please." " But they are hidden behind walls and 
ruined houses; they belong -to our curious state; they are 
the essential things after all. How foolish one be- 
comes ! 

Threading your way due south you come suddenly on a 
French picquet, four Frenchmen and two Austrians be- 
hind a heavy barricade. This precious Su wang-fu is* 
merely linked to the French Legation by a system of 
such posts audaciously feeble when you consider the duty 
they have to undertake to keep up a connection hun- 
dreds of yards long which any moment may be broken 
in a dozen places by a determined rush of the enemy. 
This first French post is the extreme left of the French 
defence, and it is only after some long alleyways that 
you come on the centre itself. Here on roofs, squatting 
behind loopholes, and even on tree-tops, though these 
are very dangerous, French and Austrian sailors ex- 
change shots with the enemy. Half a dozen men have 
been already hit here, but in spite of the strictest orders 
men are fearlessly exposing themselves and reaping the 
inevitable result. It is only at the beginning that one is 
so unwise. One giant Austrian had spread himself 
across the top of a roof near which I passed, with two 
sandbags to protect his head, and looked in his blue- 
black sailor clothes like an enormous fly squashed flat 
up there by the anger of the gods. Now leaning this 



THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 129 

way, now that, he flashed off a Mannlicher there 
towards the Italian Legation, where only one hundred 
hours ago no one ever dreamed that Chinese despera- 
does would have made our normal life such a distant 
memory. 

As I came up the French commander allowed the 
remark to drop that the position did not please him 
ga ne me dit nen is the exact expression he used and 
that his defence was too thin to be capable of resisting a 
single determined rush. The abandoned Italian barri- 
cade, with the Italian Legation still smouldering behind 
it, is indeed now filling up with more and more Chinese 
sharpshooters, who continually pour in a hot fire only 
fifty feet from the French lines. Occasionally a reckless 
Chinese brave dashes across from the hiding-place he 
has selected to cover his advance into the nest of Chinese 
houses which are only separated by a twenty-foot lane 
fromith$ French Legation wall, and coolly applies the 
corcn. . .Thfcn puff; first there is a small cloud of 
e, r ttj*i a volley of crackling wood, and finally 
leaping skyward. You can see this here at all 
Aided by fire and rifle-shots the Chinese are 
ling nearer and nearer the French. It is clear that 
I; will have a worse time than the Japanese If the 
jition develops as quietly but as rapidly as It has been 

jross Legation Street connection with the Germans is 
had by means of more loopholed barricades; for 
Jermans link hands with the French and Austrians, 

| as they on their part link up with the little colonel 

ae Su wang-fu. But the Germans are not in force at 
own Legation; they are merely using it as their. 

I, for it is only by means of the Peking Club, whose 



130 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

grounds run sheer back, that they touch the priceless 
Tartar Wall. Spread-eagled along a very indifferently 
barricaded line, the marines of the German See Bataillon 
now lie in an angry frame of mind dangerous for every 
one. They have felt hurt ever since the loss of their 
Minister, and the men are recklessly desperate. On the 
Tartar Wall itself they are, exposed to a dusting fire 
from the great Ha-ta Towers that loom up half a mile 
from them, and men are already falling. A three-inch 
gun commenced firing in the morning nobody but the 
Wall posts noticed it at first and now overhead whiz 
with that odd shaking of the air so hard to explain these 
light but dangerous projectiles. Happily it is rather 
a modern gun, and the Chinese, 
flat trajectory, are firing far too high. I noticed ag 
along that the shells fell screaming into the 
city a mile or two away. If they only get the 

Far along the Tartar Wall, towards the 
Gate, yellow dots could be indistinctly seen* \ \ 
the Americans, in their slouch hats and khak^|i$j; 
on the ground and facing the enemy's fire irr^fh 
direction. Held in check by the Germans and 
cans in two feeble posts of a few men each, the 
commanders cannot get their men along the 
Wall, and command the Legations that crouch 
Perhaps that is why playing is only going on 
assaults. Now sobbing, now gurgling, the bullet^ 
thickly enough overhead here, sometimes in dense 
like angry wild- fowl, sometimes speeding in quick st 
sion after one another as if they were all late and 
frantically endeavouring to make up for lost time. | 
I am certain now that this fusillade is increa 
from hour to hour almost from minute to mir 



THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 131 

I do not think playing will soon be the right expres- 
sion. . . . 

To get to the Russo-American side of the defence, 
there is no help for it, you have to make a long voyage; 
to climb down off the Wall, pass through the German 
Legation, cross Legation Street into the French lines, 
and work your way slowly through acres of compounds 
and deserted houses. Yesterday I would have made 
a dash, but after watching the four hundred yards of 
wall between the German and American posts, you are 
easily convinced that even to sneak along, hugging the 
protecting parapet, would be an undertaking of utter 
foolishness. For as I stood looking, the rank under- 
growth, which Chinese sloth has allowed in past years 
to grow up along the top of the Tartar Wall, was appar- 
ently alive, now swinging this way, now swaying that, 
and sometimes even jumping into the air in pieces as if 
galvanised into madness by the rush of bullets. The 
number of riflemen is growing fast. So passing into the 
French Legation, great holes let you into the next com- 
pound, which happens to be that of my friend C , 

the Peking hotel-keeper. Here there is a new sight; 
everybody is at work quite peacefully, milling wheat, 
washing rice, slaughtering animals, barricading win- 
dows doing everything, in fact, at once. This fellow 
C is an original, who knows how to make his Chi- 
nese slave with the greatest industry and sets them an 
admirable example himself. A rather desperate lot are 
these servants, although most of them are professed 
Roman Catholics, and can gabble French learned years 

ago at Monseigneur F 's. And that reminds me: 

no one has thought of the gallant bishop during the 
past few days. That shows how indifferent the ab- 



132 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

normal makes one; the French Legation has attempted 
once to get into communication with the distant cathe- 
dral and failed. Since then nobody I have seen has even 
mentioned the great Catholic mission. 

These lonely and deserted compounds, merely con- 
nected with our bases and the outlying works by great 
holes rudely picked through their massive walls, are 
curiously mournful and passing strange. The houses 
are absolutely empty and silent; everything has been left 
exactly as it stood, when the occupants rushed off fever- 
ishly to the British Legation, where they now sit in idle- 
ness relying for protection on the thin outer lines I have 
described. In these abandoned Legations and residences 
you can scarcely hear more than a distant rattle of mus- 
ketry, and when you think how great the distances are 
it is very easy to understand why the panic occurred yes- 
terday morning among the men on the outer lines, at 
which those smugly safe in the British Legation were so 
indignant. Occupying widely separated positions, im- 
perfectly linked together, and with no responsible com- 
mander to watch them with a keen and discerning eye, 
the defenders of the eastern, southern and western lines 
could well suppose that the incompetence of the Minis- 
ters and the disorders which have reigned during the 
past few weeks would culminate in their being aban- 
doned without a word of warning being sent them. It 
is so silly to say that because men are soldiers and sailors 
they must be prepared to do their duty everywhere. 
There must have been times when even the Roman 
soldier at Pompeii felt like revolting. 

Pushing on, I crossed the southern bridge of stone, in 
order to reach the Russo-American lines and the rear of 
the British Legation, and marvelled more and more at 



THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 133 

our good lucL As yet nothing has been done to protect 
this very exposed connecting link; and so bending low 
you have once more to sneak rapidly along, using the 
stone parapet as a traverse to save you from the enfilad- 
ing fire, which is coming from heavens know where. 
The bullets were singing in all manner of tones here as 
I ran, the iron ones of old-fashioned make muttering 
a deep bass; the nickel-headed modern devils spitting 
the thinnest kind of treble as they hastened along. It 
was almost amusing to gauge their speed. Some had al- 
ready travelled so far that with a flop which raises a 
little cloud of dust they dropped exhausted at your feet. 
The ricochets are in the majority, for with the vast 
number of intervening walls and trees and the sloping 
Chinese roofs which pen us in on all sides, the nickel, 
iron and lead of Mannlicher and Mauser rifles and 
Tower muskets are soon converted into mere discordant 
humming-birds, whose greatest inconvenience is their 
sound. Never have I heard such a humming as these 
spent ricochets make. 

Fifty feet past this southern stone bridge you meet the 
first Russian barricade, with half a dozen tired Russian 
sailors sleeping on the ground and a sleepy-eyed look-out 
man leaning on his rifle. This barricade faces in both 
directions in the shape of a V, and under its protection 
this part of Legation Street is supposed to be safe from 
a rush, if the men stand firm. In the Russian and 
American Legations it is everywhere the same story 
barricades and loopholed houses and outworks, now 
mostly crowned with sandbags, succeed one another with 
a regularity which becomes monotonous. But on this 
western side the bullets are few and far between as yet, 
and sometimes for a few seconds a curious quiet reigns, 



134 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

only broken by the distant and muffled hum of sound and 
crackling towards the east. Decidedly up to date it is 
the Japanese and the French and their companions who 
have all the honours in the matter of cannonading and 
fusillading, and the Germans are soon going to be not 
far behind them. Right up on the Tartar Wall I found 
the American marines once again lying mutinously silent. 
They, too, do not like it, frankly and unreservedly; and 
as I lay up there and told them what I had seen else- 
where, an old fellow with a beard said it was S , 

the first secretary, who had insisted on their stopping, 
and had almost had a fight with every one about it. The 
old marine told me that the other men would be damned 
he used the word in a wistful sort of way which had 
nothing profane about it if they stopped much longer. 
They wanted other people to share the honours; they 
did not see why every man should not have a turn at the 
same duty. ... I was glad these Americans were mak- 
ing this fuss, for everything is just as unbalanced as it 
was at the beginning, and there is no sort of confidence 
anywhere. After three days of siege the only clear 
thing I can see is that there are a lot of bad tempers, 
and that tLe few good men are saving the situation by 
acting independently to the best of their ability and are 
not trying to understand anything else. 

Much depressed, I at last slipped down through the 
back of the Russian Legation into the British Legation. 
Yes! the others are right, for on reaching the English 
grounds you feel unconsciously that you have passed 
from the fighting line to the hospital and commissariat 
base. Here, mixed impartially with the women, crowds 
of vigorous men, belonging to the junior ranks of the 
Legations' staffs and to numbers of other institutions, 



THE RETREAT AND THE RETURN 135 

are skulking, or getting themselves placed on commit- 
tees so as to escape duty. I suppose you could beat up a 
hundred, or even a hundred and fifty, rifle-bearing 
effectives in an hour. Many of the younger men were 
furious, and said they were quite willing to do anything, 
but that everybody should be turned out. ... In the 
afternoon some of them fell in with rny idea volun- 
teering under independent command on the outer lines 
and now the Japanese, the French and the Germans 
have got more men. But what I wish to show you in 
this rambling account is the unbalanced condition. Ex- 
cept in two or three places we can be rushed in ten 
minutes. 



Ill 

FIRES AND FOOD 

24th June, 1900. 



I am convinced that not only does everything come 
to him who knows how to wait, but that sooner or later 
everybody meets with their deserts. 

The British Legation, allowed to sink into a somewhat 
somnolent condition owing to its immunity from direct 
attack, has been now rudely awakened. Fires commenc- 
ing in earnest yesterday, after a few half-hearted 
attempts made previously, have been raging in half a 
dozen different places in this huge compound; and one 
incendiary, creeping in with the stealthiness of a cat, 
threw his torches so skilfully that for at least on hour the 
fate of the Ministerial residences hung in the balance, 
and Ministerial fears assumed alarming proportions. 
Again I was satisfied; everybody should sooner or later 
meet with their deserts. 

I have already said how the British Legation is situ- 
ated. Protected on the east and south entirely by the 
other Legations and linked defences, it can run no risk 
from these quarters until the defenders of these lines 
are beaten back by superior weight of numbers. Par- 
tially protected on the west, owing to the fact that an 
immense grass-grown park renders approach from this 
quarter without carefully entrenching and barricading 
simple suicide, there remain but two points of meagre 



FIRES AND FOOD 137 

dimensions at which the Chinese attack can be success- 
fully developed without much preliminary prepara- 
tion ; the narrow northern end and a southwestern point 
formed by a regular rabbit-warren of Chinese houses 
that push right up to the Legation walls. It is precisely 
at these two points that the Chinese, with their peculiar 
methods of attack, directed their best efforts. 

Beginning in earnest at the northern end, after some 
inconsiderable efforts on the southwestern corner, they 
set fire to the sacro-sanct Hanlin Yuan, which is at once 
the Oxford and Cambridge, the Heidelberg and the Sor- 
bonne of the eighteen provinces of China rolled into one, 
and is revered above all other earthly things by the 
Chinese scholar. In the spacious halls of the Hanlin 
Academy, which back against the flanking wall of the 
British Legation, are gathered in mighty piles the liter- 
ature and labours of the premier scholars of the Celestial 
Empire. Here complete editions of Gargantuan com- 
pass; vast cyclopaedia copied by hand and running into 
thousands of volumes ; essays dating from the time of 
dynasties now almost forgotten; woodblocks black with 
age crowded the endless unvarnished shelves. In an 
empire where scholarship has attained an untrammelled 
pedantry never dreamed of in the remote West, in a 
country where a perfect knowledge of the classics is 
respected by beggar and prince to such an extent that 
to attempt to convey an idea would cause laughter in 
Europe, all of us thought even the pessimists that 
it could never happen that this holy of holies would be 
desecrated by fire. Listen to what happened. 

To the sound of a heavy rifle-fire, designed to frustrate 
all efforts at extinguishing the dread fire-demon, the 
flaming torch was applied by Chinese soldiery to half a 



138 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

dozen different places, and almost before anybody knew 
it, the holy of holies was lustily ablaze. As the flames 
shot skywards, advertising the danger to the most pur- 
blind, everybody at last became energetic and sank their 
feuds. British marines and volunteers were formed up 
and independent commands rushed over from the other 
lines ; a hole was smashed through a wall, and the mixed 
force poured raggedly into the enclosures beyond. 
They had to clamber over obstacles, through tightly 
jammed doors, under falling beams, occasionally halt- 
ing to volley heavily until they had cleared all the 
ground around the Hanlin, and found perhaps half a 
ton of empty brass cartridge cases left by the enemy, 
who had discreetly flown. From a safe distance snipers, 
hidden from view and untraceable, kept on firing stead- 
ily ; but they were careful not to advance. 

Meanwhile the flames were spreading rapidly, the cen- 
tury-old beams and rafters crackling with a most alarm- 
ing fierceness which threatened to engulf the adjacent 
buildings of the Legation. What huge flames they 
were! The priceless literature was also catching fire, 
so the dragon-adorned pools and wells in the peace- 
ful Hanlin courtyards were soon choked with the tens 
of thousands of books that were heaved in by many 
willing hands. At all costs this fire must be checked. 
Dozens of men from the British Legation, hastily 
whipped into action by sharp words, were now pushed 
into the burning Hanlin College, abandoning their tran- 
quil occupation of committee meetings and commissariat 
work, which had been engaging their attention since 
the first shots had been fired on the 2Oth, and thus rein- 
forced the marines and the volunteers soon made short 
work of twenty centuries of literature. Beautiful silk- 



FIRES AND FOOD 139 

covered volumes, illumined by hand and written by mas- 
ters of the Chinese brush, were pitched unceremoniously 
here and there by the thousand with utter disregard. 
Sometimes a sinologue, of whom there are plenty in 
the Legations, unable to restrain himself at the sight of 
these literary riches which in any other times would be 
utterly beyond his reach, would select an armful of vol- 
umes and attempt to fight his way back through the 
flames to where he might deposit his burden in safety ; 
but soon the way was barred by marines with stern or- 
ders to stop such literary looting. Some of these books 
were worth their weight in gold. A few managed to get 
through with their spoils, and it is possible that missing 
copies of China's literature may be some day resurrected 
in strange lands. 

With such curious scenes proceeding these fires were 
checked in one direction only to break out in another. 
For later on, sneaking in under the cover of trees and 
the many massive buildings which pushed up so close, 
Chinese marauders finding that they could escape, threw 
torch after torch soaked in petroleum on the neighbour- 
Ing roofs and rafters. In some cases they forced our 
posts to seek cover by firing on them very heavily, and 
then with a sudden dash they could accomplish their 
deadly work at ease. At one time, thanks to this policy, 
the outbuildings of the British Legation actually caught 
fire, and the flames, urged on by a sharp north wind, 
lolled out their tongues longingly towards the main 
buildings. Lines of men, women, and children were 
hastily formed to our wells and hundreds of utensils of 
the most incongruous character were brought into play. 
I came back to find ladies of the Legations handing even 
pots de chambre full of water to the next person in the 



HO INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

long chain which had been formed ; and among all these 
people who were at length willing to work because of 
the imminent danger of their being smoked out, I found 
long-lost faces, including that of my own chief. Where 
they had all sprung from I could not make out. But to 
see Madame So-and-so, a Ministerial wife, handing 
these delectable utensils, and forced to labour hard, was 
worth a good many privations. There are so many 
elements of the tragic-absurd now to be seen. 
That work on the British Legation lines confined me 
for some time to this area, and determined to profit by 

it, I sought out Viscount T , who loves delicacies, 

and offered to exchange champagne for a few tins of 
preserves. We have mules, we have ponies, and we 
have even donkeys, it is true, and a great mass of grain 
and rice which will last for weeks. But it is dry and 
sorrowful food, and I long for a few delicacies. To-day 
my midday tiffin consisted of a rude curry made of pony 
meat ; and in the evening, because I was busy and had no 
time to search out other things, I ate once again of pony 
this time cold 1 I will frankly confess that I was not 
enchanted, and had it not been for the Monopole, of 
which there are great stores in the hotel and the club 
a thousand cases in all, I believe I should have col- 
lapsed. For as Monsieur la Fontaine has informed 
us, even the most willing of stomachs has certain rights, 
and there are times when a good deal of zeal is neces- 
sary. It is true we have now a narcotic to feed on 
which supports us at all times almost without the aid 
of anything else the never-ending roll of rifle-fire now 
blazing forth with grim violence and sending a storm 
of bullets overhead, now muttering slowly and cau- 
tiously with merely a falling leaf or a snipped branch 



FIRES AND FOOD 141 

to show that it is directed at our devoted heads. You 
can live on that for many hours, but it is a bad thing 
to feed on, of course, for it must leave after-effects more 

hard to overcome than those of opium. Little d'A , 

of the French Legation, swears he never feels hungry 
at all so long as the firing continues. . . . 

To perform this work of feeding so many mouths, 
there are committees committees far too big, since 
every one is anxious to join their safe ranks committees 
which, although they number men of all nationalities, 
are simply standing examples, I opine, of the organising 
capacity of the Yankee and his masterfulness over other 
people. For it is the Yankee missionary who has in- 
vaded and taken charge of the British Legation; it is 
the Yankee missionary who is doing all the work there 
and getting all the credit. Beginning with the fortifica- 
tions committee, there is an extraordinary man named 

G , who is doing everything absolutely everything. 

I believe there are actually other members of this com- 
mittee at least, there are some people who assist but 
G is the man of the hour, and will brook no inter- 
ference. Already the British Legation, which at the 
commencement of the siege was utterly undefended by 
any entrenchments or sandbags, is rapidly being hustled 
into order by the masterful hand of this missionary. 
Coolies are evolved from the converts of all classes, who, 
although they protest that they are unaccustomed to 
manual work, are merely given shovels and picks, sand- 
bags and bricks, and resolutely told to commence and 
learn. Already the discontented in the outer lines are 
sending for him and asking him to do this and that, 
and the hard-worked man always finds time for every- 
thing. It is a wonder. 



142 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

And behind this one man fortifications committee there 
are many other committees now. There is a general 
committee which no one has yet fathomed; a fuel com- 
mittee; a sanitary committee; nothing but committees, 
all noisily talking and quite safe in the British Legation. 
Out of the noise and chatter the American missionary 
emerges, sometimes odorous and unpleasant to look 
upon, but whose excuse for not shouldering a rifle and 
volunteering for the front is written on his tired face. 
It is the self-same Yankee missionary who is grinding 
the wheat and seeing that it is not stolen ; it is the Ameri- 
can missionary who is surveying the butcher at work 
and seeing that not even the hoofs are wasted. And 
I am sad to confess that it is he who is feeding those 
thousands of Roman Catholics in the Su wang-fu, while 
the French and Italian priests and fathers, divorced 
from the dull routine of their ordinary life, sit help- 
lessly with their hands folded, willingly abandoning 
their charges to these more energetic Anglo-Saxons. 
This Protestantism is not my religion, but for masculine 
energy there is none other like it. I would not have you 
think by this and my constant irritation that there are no 
Englishmen doing well; it is merely that the ponderous 
atmosphere of the British Legation is such that very few 
men who live habitually there can shake themselves free 
from it even in such times as these. I know that half of 
them are much upset at the role they are being forced 
to play, but who can help them? 

We are progressing more quietly now that the big fires 
are out; but still there is scant reason for any congratula- 
tions. S , for instance, is quite forgotten, I assure 

you, for I mentioned his name to P , the French 

Minister, only an hour ago, and the only reply he made 



FIRES AND FOOD 143 

was to spread out his hands in front of him and give 
vent to an immense sigh. Then he muttered as he went 
away, "II a disparu completement entierement; c'est 
la fin." . . . 

All relief is now felt to be out of the question. Men 
are also beginning to fall with regularity, and are car- 
ried in blood-stained, as evidence that this is really a 
serious business. The British Chancery is now the 
hospital ; despatch tables have been washed and covered 
with surgical cloth; cases are dropping in (seventeen up 
to date, I hear) , and doctors are busy. Already in the 
night smothered cries burst from the walls of these 
torture-rooms, and make one conscious that it may be 
one's turn next. I have always felt that it is all right 
up in the firing line, but it is that dreadful afterwards 
on the operating-table. . . . But nurses and doctors 
are doing valiantly. There is a German army doctor 
who knows his business very well, they say ; and his repu- 
tation has already spread so far among the men of our 
all-nation sailors and marines that they all ask for him. 
I have heard that request in four languages already. 

To me it seems that by incontestable laws each actor is 
taking his proper place, and that each nationality is 
pushing out its best to the proper perspective. Ah! a 
siege Is evidently the testing-room of the gods. If we 
could only in ordinary life apply the great siege test, 
what mistakes would be avoided, what reputations 
would be saved from being shattered ! Because no weak 
man would ever be given advancement. 



IV 
THE BONDS TIGHTEN 

25th June, 1900. 



On all sides our position has become less secure, less 
enviable, and the enemy more menacing, more daring 
and more intent in breaking in on us. The few dropping 
shots which opened the ball on the 2Oth have now duly 
blossomed into a rich harvest of bullets that sometimes 
continues for hours without intermission or break. The 
Japanese, unable to hold their huge line, consisting of 
Prince Su's outer wall, have already been forced to give 
way at several points, but in doing so they have each 
time managed to bite hard at the enemy's attacking head. 
The day before yesterday the little Japanese colonel de- 
cided he would have to give up a block of courts on the 
northeast some of those courts I have already de- 
scribed, which, hemmed in by walls almost as high as 
the outer monster, itself eighteen or twenty feet high 
and three feet thick, form veritable death-traps if you 
can entice any one inside and hammer them to pieces by 
loophole fire. This is precisely the policy adopted by 
Colonel S . 

The battalion of the Peking Field Force which faces 
the northern front had been industriously pushing for- 
ward massive barricades until they almost touched 
Prince Su's outer wall. Secure behind these sharp- 
shooter fortifications a distressing fire was concentrated 



THE BONDS TIGHTEN 145 

on the half a dozen fortified Japanese posts that lined 
the outer wall. Here on high stagings, crudely made of 
timber and bamboo poles and protected by thick wedges 
of sandbags, Japanese sailors and some miscellaneous 
volunteers, grouped in posts of four and five men, lay 
hour after hour unable to show a finger or move a hand. 
Hundreds of Chinese rifles at the closest possible range 
poured in a never-ending fire on these facile targets, and 
the sandbagged positions, literally eaten away by old- 
fashioned iron bullets in company with the most modern 
nickel-headed variety, crumbled down to practically 
nothing. Lying on your back at these advanced posts 
and looking at the sloping roofs of Prince Su's orna- 
mental pavilions a few hundred feet within our lines was 
a droll sight. The Chinese riflemen, being on a slightly 
lower level and forced to fire upwards at the Japanese 
positions, caused many of their bullets to skim the sand- 
bagged crest and strike the line of roofs behind. Many, 
I say; I should have said thousands and tens of thou- 
sands, for the roofs seemed alive and palpitating with 
strange feelings; and extraordinary as it may sound, big 
holes were soon eaten into the heavily tiled roofs by this 
simple rifle fusillade. It seemed as if the Chinese hoped 
to destroy us and our defences by this novel method. 
But there was a more ominous sign than this. A Japan- 
ese sailor perched high up aloft on a roof five hundred 
feet inside these advanced positions and armed with a 
telescope, had seen two guns being dragged forward. In 
a few hours at the most, even allowing for Chinese sloth 
and indifference as to time, the guns would be in position, 
and then the outer wall would be demolished, and pos- 
sibly a disordered retirement would be the result- So 
the little Japanese colonel took the bull by the horns. 



146 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Setting all the coolies he could muster from among the 
converts, he quickly formed a second line of defence by 
loopholing and sandbagging all the chess-board squares 
that flank the northern wall. When night came the 
advanced positions were quietly abandoned, and as soon 
as the Chinese scouts, who always creep forward at 
daybreak, discovered that our men had flown, their 
leaders ordered a charge. A confused mass rushed for- 
ward, penetrated one of the courtyards, and finding it 
apparently deserted, incautiously pushed into the next 
square. Before they could fly, a murderous fire caught 
them on three sides and wiped out several dozens of 
them, the rifles and ammunition being taken by our men 
and the corpses thrown outside. This has apparently 
had a chilling effect on the policy of open charges in this 
quarter, and now the Chinese commanders are advanc- 
ing their lines by means of ingenious parallels and zig- 
zag barricades, which will take some time to construct 

Meanwhile, the Japanese main-gate fort, at the ex- 
treme Japanese east, with its outlying barricades, is 
being slowly reached for by the same means. Two or 
three times the French, who make connection with the 
Japanese lines a hundred feet to the south, have had 
to send as many men as they could spare to hold back 
a sudden rush. Each time the threatened Chinese 
charge has not come off, and the incipient attack has 
fizzled out to the accompaniment of a diminishing 
fusillade. 

The commanding Italian knoll on the northwest cor- 
ner of the Su wang-fu remains firm, but somehow no one 
has very much confidence in the Italians, and secondary 
lines are being formed behind them, towards which the 
Italians look with longing eyes. And yet next to the 



THE BONDS TIGHTEN 147 

British Legation posts the Italians are having the easiest 

time of all. Lieutenant P , their commander, is a 

brave fellow; but he is brave because he is educated. 
The uneducated Italian, unlike the uneducated French- 
man, has little stomach for fighting, and it is easy to 
understand in the light of our present experiences why 
the Austrians so long dominated Northern Italy, and 
why unlucky Baratieri and his men were seized with 
panic and overwhelmed at Adowa. 

Opposite the French and German Legations, Chinese 
activity is not so intense as it has been heretofore. 
Everything in this quarter for thousands of yards is 
practically flat with the ground, for incendiaries have 
destroyed hundreds and hundreds of houses, and the 
Chinese commanders are favouring low-lying barricades, 
which are hard to pick out from the enormous mass of 
partially burned ruins which encumber the ground. Just 
as In South Africa we were reading only the other day, 
before this plight overtook us, that the hardest thing 
to see is a live Boer on the battlefield, so here it is the 
merest chance to make out the soldiery that is attacking 
us. Sometimes dozens of men scuttle across from posi- 
tion to position, and for a moment a vision of dark, 
sunburned faces and brightly coloured uniforms waves 
in front of us; but in the main, so well has the enemy 
learned the art of taking cover, and of utilising every 
fold in the ground, that many have not even seen a 
Boxer or a soldier or know what they look like, although 
their fire has been so assiduously pelting us. But some 
sharp-eyed men of the Legations have learned two 
things that the Manchu Banners and Tung Fu-hsiang's 
Kansu soldiery now divide the honour of the attack. 
Tung Fu-hsiang fortunately has mostly cavalry, and a 



148 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

strong force of his dismounted men armed with Mann- 
licher carbines are on the northeast of the Japanese posi- 
tion, for two have been shot and dragged into our lines. 
These cavalrymen are not much to be feared. 

Farther to the south the German position has become 
exceedingly curious. While from the American marines 
on the Tartar Wall round in a vast sweep on to the 
French Legation, each hour sees more defences go up, 
the Germans have to content themselves with what prac- 
tically amounts to fighting in the open. There has been 
no time to give them enough coolies, and so they have 
only lookout men, with the main body entrenched in the 
centre of their position. But yesterday they surprised 
some Boxers, who had daringly pushed their way into 
a Chinese house a few yards from one outwork, and who 
were about to set fire to it, preparatory to calling for- 
ward their regular troops. The Germans charged with 
a tremendous rush, killed every one of the marauders, 
and flung the dead bodies far out so that the enemy 
might see the reward for daring. Being certain that 
the Chinese commanders would attempt to revenge this 
blow, what driblets of men could be spared have been 
lent to make the German chain more continuous. It is 
almost impossible now to follow the ebb and flow of rein- 
forcements from one point to another; but it may be 
roughly said that the southeastern, eastern, northern 
and northwestern part of our square that is, the Ger- 
mans, French, Austrians, Japanese and Italians feed 
one another with men whenever the rifle fire in any given 
direction along their lines and the flitting movements 
of the enemy make post commanders suppose a mass 
attack is coming; and that the British Legation and 
the western Russo-American front, together with the 



THE BONDS TIGHTEN 149 

American posts on the Tartar Wall, work together. It 
is, of course, self-evident from what I have written that 
the first, or Continental and Japanese lines, are having 
by far the worst time. For, apart from the American 
posts on the Tartar Wall, no outposts in the second 
section are as yet in direct touch with the enemy. The 
strain on those who are within a few yards of Chinese 
commands is at times terrible. At night many men can 
only be held in place by a system of patrols designed 
to give them confidence. . . . 

I have just said that no part of the second half of our 
irregular system was in direct touch with the enemy, but 
this, although true enough to-day, was not so yesterday. 
The Chinese pushed up a gun somewhere near the 
dangerous southwestern corner of the British Legation, 
and the fire became so annoying that it was decided to 
make a sortie and effect a capture if possible. Cap- 
tain H , the second captain of the British detach- 
ment, was selected to command the sortie, and with a 
small force of British marines who have been pining at 
their enforced inaction and dull sentry-go, and are 
jealous of the greater glory the others have already 
earned by their successful butchery of the enemy, a wall 
was breached and our men rushed out. Being off duty, I 
witnessed most of the affair. Of course, the sortie ended 
in failure, as every such movement is foredoomed to, 
when the nature of the ground which surrounds us is 
considered. There are nothing but small Chinese houses 
and walls on every side, making it impossible to move 
beyond our lines without demolishing and breaking 
through heavy brickwork. The marines went forward 
as gallantly as they could, and surprised some of the 
nests of sharpshooters protecting the gun; but the 



150 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Chinese, as they retreated, set fire to the houses on all 
sides, and in the thick flames and smoke it was impossible 
to move save back by the way they had come. Under 
cover of the smoke the Chinese soldiery opened a tre- 
mendous fire on the sortie party, who were picking up 
some of the rifles and swords with which the ground was 
strewn, and seeing that our men could not possibly ad- 
vance, the enemy pushed forward boldly, rapidly firing 
more and more energetically. The British captain re- 
ceived a terrible wound, but refused to retire ; a marine 
was shot through the groin and died in a few minutes ; 
bullets cut the men's tunics to pieces; and in a hailstorm 
of fire, poured on them a few yards away, they retreated. 

H covered the retreat all the way, wounded as he 

was, and shot three men with his revolver, who were 
heading a last desperate rush at his men as they made 
for the hole in the wall. Dripping with blood, this 
brave man staggered all the way to the hospital alone, 
refusing all support, and gripping his smoking revolver 
to the last. His battered appearance so frightened all 
the miserables who swarm in the British Legation that 
every one was very gloomy until the next meal had been 
eaten, and they had restored themselves by garrulous 
talk. The German doctor says that H will prob- 
ably die. 

Meanwhile the Americans on the Wall are behaving 
more erratically than ever. They have retired and re- 
occupied their position three or four times since the siege 
began, and the men are now more than mutinous. Yes- 
terday they came down twice no one could quite make 
out why and after a lapse of an hour or two in each 
case, they returned. Matters reached a crisis this morn- 
ing, and a council of war was called by the British Min- 



THE BONDS TIGHTEN 151 

ister, composed of all the officers commanding detach- 
ments. The meeting took place under the American 
barricade on the Tartar Wall itself, apparently to give 
confidence to the men and to make them ashamed of 
themselves. But the most curious part of it all was that 
our commander-in-chief excused himself on the diplo- 
matic ground that he was sick, and amid the smiles of 

all, Captain T , the Austrian, presided and laid down 

the law. This clearly shows how absurd is our whole 
system. Every one says the Americans were quite 
ashamed of themselves when the meeting was over, for 
the general vote of all the detachment officers was that 
the position was well fortified, easy to retain, and abso- 
lutely essential to hold. They say the whole reason is 
that there is internal trouble in the American contingent, 
and that one of the officers is hated. Whether this is 
really so or not, I do not know; we never know anything 
certain now. But although the American has but little 
discipline, as a sharpshooter on the defensive he is quite 
unrivalled by reason of his superior intelligence and the 
interest he takes in devoting himself to the matter in 
hand. You only have to see these mutinous marines at 
work for five minutes as snipers to be convinced of 
that. I saw a case in point only a few hours ago. Men 
were wanted to drive back, or at least intimidate, a 
whole nest of Chinese riflemen, who had cautiously 
established themselves in a big block of Chinese houses 
across the dry canal, which separates the British Lega- 
tion from the Su wang-fu. This block of houses is so 
placed that an enfilading fire can reach a number of 
points which are hidden from the Japanese lines; and 
this enfilading fire was badly needed, as the Chinese 
riflemen were becoming more and more daring, and had 



152 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

already made several hits. Half a dozen of the best 
American shots were requisitioned. 

The six men who came over went deliberately to work 
in a very characteristic way. They split into pairs, and 
each pair got, by some means, binoculars. After a quar- 
ter of an hour they settled down to work, lying on their 
stomachs. First they stripped off their slouch hats and 
hung them up elsewhere, but instead of putting them 
a few feet to the right or left as everybody else, with a 
vague idea of Red Indian warfare, within our lines had 
been doing, they placed them in such a way as to attract 
the enemy's fire and make the enemy disclose himself, 
which is quite a different matter. This they did by add- 
ing their coats and decorating adjacent trees with them 
so far away from where they lay that there could be no 
chance of the enemy's bad shooting hitting them by mis- 
take as had been the case elsewhere where this device 
had been tried. 

All this by-play took some time, but at last they were 
ready one man zrrned with a pair of binoculars and 
the other with the American naval rifle the Lee 
straight-pull, which fires the thinnest pin of a cartridge 
I have seen and has but a two-pound trigger pull. Even 
then nothing was done for perhaps another ten min- 
utes, and in some cases for half an hour; it varied 
according to individual requirements. Then when the 
quarry was located by the man with the binoculars, and 
the man with the rifle had finished asking a lot of playful 
questions so as to gain time, the first shots were fired. 
The marines armed with binoculars were not unduly 
elated by any one shot, but 'merely reported progress in 
a characteristic American fashion that is, by a system 
of chaffing. This provided tonic, and presently the bul- 



THE BONDS TIGHTEN 153 

lets crept in so close to the marks that all chaff was for- 
gotten. Sometimes it took an hour, or even two, to 
bring down a single man ; but no matter how long the 
time necessary might be, the Americans stayed patiently 
with their man until the sniper's life's blood was drilled 
out of him by these thin pencils of Lee straight-pull bul- 
lets. Once, and once only, did excitement overtake a 
linked pair I was watching. They had already knocked 
over two of the enemy aloft in trees, and were attacking 
a third, who only showed his head occasionally above a 
roof-line when he fired, and who bobbed up and down 
with lightning speed. The sole thing to do under the 
circumstances was to calculate when the head would re- 
appear. So the man with the binoculars calculated 
aloud for the benefit of the man with the rifle, and soon, 
in safety below the wall-line, a curious group had col- 
lected to see the end. But it was a hard shot and a dis- 
appointing one, since it was essential not to scare the 
quarry thoroughly by smashing the roof-line instead of 
the head. So the bullets flew high, and although the 
sharpshooter was comforted by the remarks of the other 
man, no progress was made. Then suddenly the rifle- 
man fired, on an inspiration, he said afterwards, and lo 1 
and behold, the head and shoulders of a Chinese brave 
rose clear in the air and then tumbled backwards. 

"Killed, by G ; killed, by G 1" swore the man 

with the binoculars irreverently; and well content with 
their morning's work, the two climbed down and went 
away. 

You will realise from all these things that everything 
is still very erratic, and that the men remain badly dis- 
tributed. Nor is this all. The general command over 
the whole of the Legation area is now plainly modelled 



354 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

on the Chinese plan that is, the officer commanding 
does not interfere with the others, excepting when he can 
do so with impunity to himself. As I have shown, or- 
ders which are distasteful are simply ignored. There 
is a spirit of rebellion which can only spring from one 
cause. People who have read a lot say that every siege 
in history has been like this with everything incom- 
plete and in disorder. If this is so, I wonder how his- 
tory has been made I Certainly in this age there is very 
little of real valour and bravery. Perhaps there has 
been a little in the past, and it is only the glozing-over of 
time which makes it seem otherwise. 



V 

THE MYSTERIOUS BOARD OF TRUCE 

25th June, 1900 (night-time). 



It is always true that the unexpected affords relief when 
least awaited. In our case it has been amply proved. 

The sun, which had been shining fiercely all day long 
until we felt fairly baked and very disconsolate, was 
heaving down slowly towards the west, flooding the pink 
walls of the Imperial city with a golden light and sink- 
ing the black outline of the sombre Tartar Wall that 
towers so high above us, when all round our battered 
lines the dropping rifle-fire drooped more and more 
until single shots alone punctuated the silence. Our out- 
posts, grouping together, leaned on their rifles and gave 
vent to sighs of relief. Perhaps something had at last 
really happened, for though five days only have passed 
since the beginning of the real siege, they seemed to 
every one more like five weeks, or even five months, so 
clearly do startling events separate one by huge gaps 
from the dull routine of every-day life. All of us lis- 
tened attentively, and presently on all sides the fierce 
music of the long Chinese trumpets blared out uproar- 
iously blare, blare, sobbing on a high note tremu- 
lously, and then, boom, boom, suddenly dropping to 
a thrilling basso profondissimo. Even the children 
know that sound now. Louder and louder the trumpet- 
calls rang out to one another in answering voice, impera- 



156 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

tively calling off the attacking forces. Impelled to re- 
tire by this constant clamour, all the Chinese soldiery 
must have retreated, except a few straggling snipers, 
who remained for a few minutes longer, dully and 
methodically loosing off their rifles at our barricades. 
Ten or fifteen minutes passed, and then, as if the grow- 
ing solitude were oppressing them, these last snipers 
desisted, and, coolly rising and disclosing their brightly 
coloured tunics and sombre turbans, they sauntered off 
in full view. I saw half a dozen go off in this way. 
Clearly something remarkable was happening and our 
astonishment deepened. 

Presently the word ran round our half-mile of barri- 
cades that a board, with big Chinese characters written 
across it, had been placed by a Chinese soldier bearing 
the conventional white flag of truce on the parapet of the 

north bridge, where J , the first man killed, had 

fallen, and that the curious board was exciting every 
one's astonishment. Getting leave to absent myself, I 
ran into the British Legation, and from a scaffolding not 
a hundred yards from the bridge I saw the mysterious 
placard with my own eyes. Already binoculars and 
telescopes had been busily adjusted, and all the sino- 
logues mustered in the British Legation had roughly 
written copies of the message in their hands and were 
disputing as to the exact meaning. It was only then 
that I realised what a strange medley of nationalities 
had been collected together in this siege. Frenchmen, 
Russians, Germans, Japanese, English, Americans, and 
many others were all arguing together, until finally 
H , the great administrator, was called upon to de- 
cide. The legend ran: 

u ln accordance with the Imperial commands to pro- 



THE MYSTERIOUS BOARD OF TRUCE i:>7 

tect the Ministers, firing will cease immediately and a 
despatch will be delivered at the Imperial canal-bridge." 

A vast commotion was created, as you may judge, ^hen 
this news circulated among the refugee Ministers and 
all the heterogeneous crowd who have been behaving so 
strangely since the serious business began. Not one of 
us had relished the idea of being massacred after the 
manner of the Indian Mutiny, but there are different 
ways of behaving under such perils; some of those we 
had witnessed would not bear relating. 

In a very short time, indeed, a suitable reply had been 
written briefly in Chinese on another board, but the 
finding of a messenger was more difficult. We must 
send a proper man. A Chinaman was at length dis- 
covered, who, after having been invested with the cus- 
tomary official hat and the long official coat, was per- 
suaded to advance towards the bridge bearing our 
message and piteously waving a white flag to show that 
he likewise was a harbinger of peace. The man 
progressed but slowly towards the Imperial bridge, and 
twice he gave unmistakable signs of wishing to bolt; 
but urged on by cries and a frantic waving, he at last 
reached the parapet on which leaned our enemy's 
placard. Then depositing our own reply, his courage 
left him completely, and he incontinently bolted for our 
lines as hard as he could run, casting his dignity to the 
winds. In his haste he had set his board all askew, and 
the enemy could not possibly have understood it. But 
no arguments could induce our messenger to return. He 
swore, indeed, that he had just escaped in time, as the 
enemy's rifles were all pointed towards him from a num- 
ber of positions just beneath the Imperial city wall, 
which we could not see from our lines. So nothing 



158 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

more was done by our headquarters, and an hour passed 
away with all the world waiting, but with no Imperial 
despatch brought to us. 

The sun was now down only six inches above the pink 
walls in another hour it would be dark and our posi- 
tion would be exactly the same as before. On all sides 
our fighting line had clambered over their barricades and 
were examining the enemy's silent ones with curiosity. 
Beyond the fortified Hanlin courtyards, to the north of 
the British Legation courtyards, which had been occu- 
pied and heavily sandbagged after the big fires there, 
so as to keep the enemy at a safe distance the mass of 
ruins were indeed as silent and as deserted as a grave- 
yard. Cautiously escalading walls and pushing down 
narrow alleyways, some of us advanced several hundred 
yards to see what was happening beyond ; and presently, 
standing on the top of an unbroken wall line, there were 
the Palace gates and the mysterious pink walls almost 
within a stone's throw of us. The sun had moved still 
farther west, and its slanting rays now struck the Im- 
perial city, under whose orders we had been so lustily 
bombarded, with a wonderful light. Just outside the 
Palace gates were crowds of Manchu and Chinese 
soldiery infantry, cavalry, and gunners grouped all to- 
gether in one vast mass of colour. Never in my life 
have I seen such a wonderful panorama such a brilliant 
blaze in such rude and barbaric surroundings. There 
were jackets and tunics of every colour; trouserings of 
blood red embroidered with black dragons ; great two- 
handed swords in some hands; men armed with bows 
and arrows mixing with Tung Fu-hsiang's Kansu horse- 
men, who had the most modern carbines slung across 
their backs. There were blue banners, yellow banners 



THE MYSTERIOUS BOARD OF TRUCE 159 

embroidered with black, white and red flags, both tri- 
angular and square, all presented in a jumble to our 
wondering eyes. The Kansu soldiery of Tung Fu- 
hsiang's command were easy to pick out from among 
the milder looking Peking Banner troops. Tanned 
almost to a colour of chocolate by years of campaigning 
in the sun, of sturdy and muscular physique, these men 
who desired to be our butchers showed by their aspect 
what little pity we should meet with if they were allowed 
to break in on us. Men from all the Peking Banners 
seemed to be there with their plain and bordered jackets 
showing their divisions; but of Boxers there was not a 
sign. Where had the famed Boxers vanished to ? 

Thus we stood for some time, the enemy gazing as 
eagerly at us as we at them. Strict orders must have 
come from the Palace, for not a hostile sign was made. 
It was almost worth five days of siege just to see that 
unique sight, which took one back to times when savage 
hordes were overrunning the world. Peking is still so 
barbaric I 

We sent back word that it might be possible to parley 
with the enemy, and to learn, perhaps, the reason for 
this sudden truce ; and soon several members of the so- 
called general committee, whose organisation and duties 
I confess I do not clearly understand, came out from our 
lines and stood waving their handkerchiefs. But it was 
some time before the gaudy-coated enemy would pay 
any attention to these advances, and finally one of our 
committeemen, to show that he was a man of peace 
and really wished to speak with them, went slowly for- 
ward with his hands held high above his head. Then a 
thin, sallow Chinese, throwing a sword to the ground, 
advanced from the Palace walls, and finally these two 



160 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

were standing thirty or forty yards apart and within hail 
of one another. Then a parley began which led to noth- 
ing, but gave us some news. The board ordering firing 
to cease had been carried out under instructions from 
Jung Lu Jung Lu being the Generalissimo of the 
Peking field forces. A despatch would certainly follow, 
because even now a Palace meeting was being held. The 
Empress Dowager, the man continued, was much dis- 
tressed, and had given orders to stop the fighting; the 
Boxers were fools. . . . 

Then the soldier waved a farewell, and retreated cau- 
tiously, picking his way back through the ruins and 
masses of debris. Several times he stopped and raised 
the head of some dead man that lay there, victim to our 
rifles, and peered at the face to see whether it was 
recognisable. In five days we have accounted for very 
many killed and wounded, and numbers still lie in the 
exposed positions where they fell, 

The disappearing figure of that man was the end to the 
last clue we came across regarding the meaning of this 
sudden quiet. The shadows gradually lengthened and 
night suddenly fell, and around us were nothing but 
these strangely silent ruins. There was barricade for 
barricade, loophole for loophole, and sandbag for sand- 
bag. What has been levelled to the ground by fire has 
been heaped up once more so that the ruins themselves 
may bring more ruin ! 

But although we exhausted ourselves with questions, 
and many of us hoped against hope, the hours sped 
slowly by and no message came. The Palace, enclosed 
in its pink walls, had slunk to sleep, or forgotten us or, 
perhaps, had even found that there could be no truce. 
Then midnight came, and as we were preparing, half 



THE MYSTERIOUS BOARD OF TRUCE 161 

incredulously, to go to sleep, we truly knew. Crack, 
crack, went the first shots from some distant barricade, 
and bang went an answering rifle on our side. Awak- 
ened by these echoes, the firing grew naturally and me- 
chanically to the storm of sound we have become so 
accustomed to, and the short truce was forgotten. It 
is no use; we must go through to the end. . . . 



VI 

SHELLS AND SORTIES 

3d July, 1900. 



For a week I have written nothing, absolutely nothing, 
and have not even taken a note, nor cared what hap- 
pened to me or to anybody else. How could I when I 
have been so crushed by unending sentry-go, by such an 
unending roar of rifles and crash of shells, that I merely 
mechanically wake at the appointed hour, mechanically 
perform my duty and as mechanically fall asleep again. 
My ego has been crushed out of me, and I have become, 
doubtless, quite rightly so, an insignificant atom in a 
curious thing called a siege. No mortal under such cir- 
cumstances, no matter how faithful to an appointed task, 
can put pencil to paper, and attempt to sketch the con- 
fusion and smoke around him. You may try, perhaps, 
as I have tried, and then, suddenly, before you can real- 
ise it, you fall half asleep and pencil and paper are thrice 
damned. 

For we have been worked so hard, those of us who do 
not care and are young, and the enemy is pushing in so 
close and so persistently, that we have not much farther 
to run if the signs that I see about me go for anything. 
Artillery, to the number of some eight or ten pieces, is 
now grinding our barricades to pieces and making our 
outworks more and more untenable. Rifle bullets float 
overhead in such swarms that by a comparison of notes 



SHELLS AND SORTIES 163 

I now estimate that there must be from five to six thou- 
sand infantry and dismounted cavalry ranged against 
us. Mines are being already run under so many 
parts of our advanced lines, and their dangers are so 
near that on the outworks we fall asleep ready to 
be blown up. . . . 

. . . Nor are the dangers merely prospective. They 
are actual and grimly disgusting. During the past week 
the casualty list has gone on rapidly increasing, and to- 
day our total is close on one hundred killed and wounded 
in less than two weeks' intermittent fighting out of a 
force of four hundred and fifty rifles. The shells oc- 
casionally fly low and take you on the head ; the bullets 
flick through loopholes or as often take you in the back 
from some enfilading barricades, and thus through two 
agencies you can be hastened towards the Unknown. 
As far as I am personally concerned, it is largely a mat- 
ter of food whether this affects one acutely or not If 
you have a full stomach you do not mind so much, and 
even shrug your shoulders should the man next to you be 
hit ; but at four or five in the morning, when everything 
is pale and damp, and you are stomach-sick, it is nerve- 
shaking to see a man brutally struck and gasping 
under the blow. I have seen this happen three times; 
once it was truly horrible, for I was so splashed with 
blood. . . . 

It is also largely a matter of days. On some days, you 
think, in a curious sort of a way, that your turn has 
come, and that it will be all over in a few minutes. You 
try to convince yourself by silent arguing that such 
thoughts are the merest foolishness, that you are at 
heart a real coward; but in spite of every device the 
feeling remains, and in place of your former unconcern 



164 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

a nervousness takes possession of you. This nervousness 
is not exactly the nervousness of yourself, for your outer 
self surveys your inner depths with some contempt, but 
the slight fear remains. You do not know what it is 
it is inexplicable. Yet it is there. 

Yesterday I had the experience in full force, just as a 
line of us in extended order were galloping up to a 
threatened position. My boots untied and twice nearly 
tripped me. I had to stop, perhaps two seconds, per- 
haps five, dropping on my knee with my head low beside 
it. For some reason I did not finish tying the laces. I 
sprang up, threw my right leg forward preparatory to 
doubling, and then ping I was spinning on the ground, 
laughing at my own clumsiness in falling down. Then I 
glanced to see why my right knee-cap stung me so much. 
I stopped laughing. A bullet had split across the skin 
rafle, the French call it and a shred of my trousers, 
mixed with some shreds of skin, was hanging down cov- 
ered with blood. Half a second before my head had 
been exactly where my knee was, and had I not moved, 
spurred by some curious intuition, I would have been 
dead on the ground. Perhaps one's inner consciousness 
knows more than one thinks. . . . 

But such personal experiences are trivial compared 
with what is going on around us generally. I should 
not speak of them. For if the Chinese commands are 
closing in on us on every side, our fighting line is biting 
back as savagely as it can, and is giving them better 
than they give us when we get to grips. But in spite of 
this our position is less enviable than ever, and it requires 
no genius to see that if the Chinese commanders persist 
in their present policy the Legations must fall unless 
relief comes in another two weeks. 



SHELLS AND SORTIES 165 

Look at the Su wang-fu and the plucky little Japanese 
colonel I You will, perhaps, remember that I said that 
the great flanking wall of the Su wang-fu was far too 
big a task for the Japanese command, and that sooner 
or later they would have to give way. It has been 
proved days ago that what I said was correct, for slowly 
but surely the fire of two Chinese guns has demolished 
successively the outer wall, the enclosed courtyards be- 
hind it, and then a line of houses linked together by 
field-works hastily constructed from the rubble lying 
around. It was my duty to be one of a post of six men 
hastily sent here and entrenched on the fringe of our 
defence in one of these Chinese houses. It was a curi- 
ous experience. It lasted for hours. 

Inside the partly demolished wall of one house we were 
forced to squat on a staging, peeping at the enemy, who 
was not more than twenty yards off, lying perdu just 
behind a confused mass of low-lying barricades. These 
riflemen, flung far forward of the main Chinese posi- 
tions in this quarter, lay very silent, hardly moving hour 
after hour. A couple of hundred yards or so behind 
them, the main body of the enemy, secure behind mas- 
sive earthen and brick works, poured in an unending fire 
on our devoted heads with a vigour which never seemed 
to flag. Our loopholes, which we had carefully blocked 
up with loose bricks so that the merest cracks remained, 
spat dust at us as the enemy's bullets persistently pecked 
at the outside, but could gain no entrance. Sometimes 
a single missile would slue its way in through every- 
thing and end with a sob against the inside wall. Once 
one came crash through and struck the Japanese who 
was next to me full in the face. It knocked out two 
teeth, cut his mouth and his cheek so that they bled red 



166 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

blood hour after hour, making him hideous to look on ; 

but the Japanese, calmly untying the clout which en- 
cased his head, bound it instead across the wound, merely 

cursing the enemy and not stirring an inch. The rest 
of us had not time to note much even of that which was 
taking place right alongside of us; for we had orders to 
be ready at any moment for a forward rush. If it had 
come we should have been caught in a trap and lost. 
That I knew and understood. 

We had stood this storm for a couple of hours, and 
were beginning to revenge ourselves on the advanced 
line of skirmishers by winging them whenever an incau- 
tious movement disclosed an arm or a leg, although we 
had the strictest orders not to fire except to check a rush, 
when a new danger presented itself, and was added to 
our already uncomfortable position. An antiquated 
gun that had been sending screeching shells over our 
heads, had evidently been given orders to drive us from 
where we lay, for the shells which had been flying high 
moved lower and lower, and buzzed more and more 
fiercely, until at last one struck the roof. The aim, how- 
ever, was still too high, for the debris of tiles, timber 
and mortar clattered down the other side of the house 
and did us no harm. 

It may have been five or ten minutes when a tremen- 
dous blow shook our staging, and a vast shower of fall- 
ing tiles and bricks drowned all other sound. A shell, 
aimed well and low, had taken the roof full and fair, and 
brought a big piece in on top of us. For some time we 
could see nothing, nor realise the extent of the damage 
done, for clouds of choking dust filled our improvised 
fort, and made us oblivious to everything except a su- 
preme desire for fresh air. Pushing our loopholes open, 



SHELLS AND SORTIES 167 

regardless of the enemy's fire, we gasped for breath; 
never have I been so choked and so distressed, and pres- 
ently, the air clearing a little, a huge rent in the roof was 
disclosed. On the ground behind lay piles upon piles 
of rubbish and broken tiles, and perilously near our 
heads a huge rafter sagged downwards, half split in two. 
We were debating how long we could stand under such 
circumstances, when a second shock shook the building, 
and once more we were deluged with dust and dirt. 
This time the hanging rafter was dislodged and fell sul- 
lenly with a heavy crash to the ground; and now, in addi- 
tion to the gap in the roof, a long rent appeared in the 
rear wall. Our top line of loopholes was obviously 
worse than useless, and as it seemed more than likely 
that with the accurate range they had got the Chinese 
gunners would soon be pitching their shells right into 
our faces, we decided to climb down off the staging and 
man a lower line of loopholes pierced two feet above 
the ground line. Here we could see very little in front 
on account of the ruins. We were not a minute too 
soon, for the very next missile struck our front wall 
fairly and squarely, and showered bricks and ragged bits 
of segment on to the platform above us. Luckily the 
planks and timber with which this edifice was stoutly 
constructed saved our heads, and the loosened bricks, 
piling up on the improvised flooring above us, made our 
position below even more secure. Seizing the breathing 
time the clumsy reloading of the gun attacking us gave, 
we pulled spare rafters and bricks around us in the shape 
of a blockhouse, and thus apparently buried in the ruins 
of the house, we were soon in reality quite comfortably 
and securely ensconced. Slowly and methodically the ar- 
tillerymen demolished the upper part of our fort, and 



168 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

brought tons and tons of bricks and slates rattling about 
our ears; but with the exception of many bruises im- 
partially distributed among all of us, no one was further 
hurt. After two hours' bombardment and throwing 
forty or fifty shells right on top of us, the enemy appar- 
ently tired of the amusement, and we, on our part, see- 
ing no good in remaining where we were, sallied out of 
the side of the building and suddenly faced the 
skirmishers, who were still lying on the sunburned 
bricks. The Chinese soldiery, alarmed at this sudden 
appearance when they must have thought us dead, took 
precipitously to flight, and in their haste to escape so ex- 
posed themselves that we had no difficulty in rolling over 
a couple. As soon as they had retreated we re-occupied 
a little position slightly in advance of the house, and lay 
there contentedly munching biscuit and having a pull at 
the water bottles. It is extraordinary how callous you 
become. 

It was not until four or five o'clock in the afternoon 
that we were relieved, and then in a fashion that highly 
flattered our vanity. The little Japanese colonel ap- 
peared in person with a small force of riflemen and some 
stretcher bearers, and he fell back in astonishment when 
he saw our occupation. We had pushed forward a look- 
out a few yards in advance, and the rest of us were 
playing noughts and crosses on some broken tiles. In 
front of us the barricades were silent, and the Japanese 
sailor so curiously wounded in the earlier part of the 
day was fiercely wrangling with an English volunteer, 
who had taught him the game and had just insulted him 
by saying he was cheating. The colonel declared he had 
thought us all dead, but that although he had sent twice 
to find out how we were faring, the tremendous storm of 



SHELLS AND SORTIES 169 

shells and bullets raging round our entire lines had made 
it impossible to reinforce us. The French, he said, had 
been so heavily beaten that he had had to prepare for a 
general retreat into the British Legation; the Germans 
had been swept off the Tartar Wall; the Americans had 
been shaken and almost driven back; and had not the 
Chinese themselves tired of the game, another hour 
would have seen a general retreat sounded. We were 
much commended for not having fallen back, but we 
pointed out that it had been really nothing, since we had 
only had one man slightly wounded. Still, it was an ex- 
perience hard to beat to be left in a house practically 
levelled to the ground by shell-fire, and as I got eighteen 
hours off duty granted me, during which time I slept 
solidly without waking once, the whole affair remains 
most firmly impressed on the tablets of my memory. 
It is only when you have been through it that you under- 
stand what you can endure. 

All this was some days ago, and was really nothing to 
what we had the day before yesterday, which happened 
to be the ist of July. 

The Chinese artillery practice, although poor, the guns 
and shells being hopelessly ancient, had become so an- 
noying and so distressing that it was determined to adopt 
a policy of reprisals, taking the form of sorties, and by 
bayonetting the gunners and damaging the guns if we 
could not drag them off, to induce the enemy to make 
his offensive less galling. The ball was opened by an 
attack which was miserably conducted on the selfsame 
gun that had so harshly treated that little post I have de- 
scribed a few days before. On the ist of the month, 
Lieutenant P , the commander of the Italian hil- 
lock, laid a plan of sortie before headquarters to which 



170 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

consent was given. Supported by British marines and 
volunteers, the Italians were to make a sortie in force 
from their position and seize the gun. The Japanese 
were to co-operate from their barricades and trenches 
by opening a heavy fire, and moving slowly forward in 
extended order as soon as the Italian charge had com- 
menced. All the morning the Italians were noisily pre- 
paring, and as soon as their attack was delivered, it jus- 
tified all we had already thought about them. They 
issued from their lines with a wild rush, but no sooner 
did the Chinese fire strike them than they broke and fled, 
losing several killed and wounded, and fighting like 
madmen to escape through a passageway which led back. 

P was very severely wounded in the arm, and had to 

give up his command, and the bodies of the Italians 
killed were never recovered. A section of the British 
Legation students, who had gone forward with the 
Italians, had a man badly wounded, and the sight of 
this young fellow staggering back with his clothes 
literally dripping with blood gave the British Legation 
inmates a start it took some time to recover from. 

Later, it turned out that P 's sortie plan was based 

on a faulty map ; that the whole command found itself 
being fired on from a dozen quarters before fifty yards 
had been covered; and that there were nothing but im- 
possible walls and barricades. But still this does not ex- 
cuse the fact that while the Italians were behaving like 
madmen the young students stood stock-still and awaited 
orders to retire. In truth, we are being educated by 
events. 

The loss of the Italian commander has made the Italian 
posts more useless than ever. These men are now ner- 
vous, and have hardly a round of ammunition left, al- 



SHELLS AND SORTIES 171 

though they were given some of the captured Chinese 
Mausers and a fresh stock of cartridges three days ago. 
Every shadow is fired at by them at night, and the vague 
uneasiness which overcomes every one when dozens of 
the enemy are moving in the inky black only a few feet 
off seems more than they can stand. 

Meanwhile the French Legation, thanks to this gun- 
fire, is now but a ruined mass of buildings, a portion of 
which has fallen into Chinese hands. Alarmed at the 

progress which has been made everywhere, M , the 

British Minister, who is still the nominal commander-in- 
chief, has for days been pestering the French com- 
mandant to send him men to reinforce other points. 
The same stubborn answer has been sent back, that not a 
sailor can be spared, and that none will be sent. This 
curious contest between the commander of the French 
lines and the British Minister has ended in a species of 
deadlock, which bodes ill for us all. The Frenchman 
believes that the remains of the French lines form a vital 
part in the defence; the British Minister, invested with 
military rank by his colleagues, instead of examining the 
entire area of the defence carefully with his own eyes 
and seeing exactly whether this Is so or not, never ven- 
tures beyond the limits of the British Legation. At 
least, no one has ever seen him. Even the so-called chief 
of the staff, who is the commander of the British 
marines, does not regularly visit the French lines. Prac- 
tically, it may be said that while there Is death and mur- 
der outside there is only armed neutrality within. It is 
an extraordinary position. 

In spite of the way they have been treated up to the ist 
of July, the French and Austrians still sullenly cling to 
the ruins of the French barricades. But on the ist the 



173 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Chinese, elated at their success in capturing the eastern 
half of the French Legation, pushed their barricades 
nearer and nearer, and only one hundred yards behind 
their advanced lines they brought two guns into action, 
firing segment and shrapnel alternately. Under this de- 
vastating bombardment, almost a bout portant, as the 
French say, the last line of French trenches and their 
main-gate blockhouse became untenable. Pieces of shell 
tore through everything; men were wounded more and 
more quickly, and in the most sheltered part a French 
volunteer, Wagner, had his entire face blown off him, 
dying a horrible death. The French commander, dis- 
heartened by the treatment he had received from the 
comniander-in-chief, and convinced that all his men would 
be blown to pieces if they remained where they were, 
ordered his bugler to sound the retire. The clarion's notes 
rose shrilly above this storm of fire, and dragging their 
dead with them, the Franco- American survivors retreated 
into the fortified line behind them the Peking hotel. 
Here they manned the windows and barricades of the 
intrepid Swiss' hostelry, which had already been heavily 
damaged by the Chinese guns* A determination was 
arrived at not to be driven out of this hotel until the last 
man had been killed ; it was necessary at all costs to pre- 
vent the enemy from breaking in so far. More volun- 
teers were brought to reinforce this line, and the sinking 
spirits of the French were restored; for within half an 
hour of their retreat the bugler had sounded the advance 
again, and with a rush the abandoned positions were re- 
occupied and the Chinese driven back. Then the guns 
stopped their cannonade, and a breathing space was 
given which was sufficient to repair some of the damage 
done. 



SHELLS AND SORTIES 173 

While these stirring events had been following each 
other in quick succession down on level ground, the grim 
Tartar Wall has been at once our salvation and destroyer 
of men. The Germans have been having a terrible time, 
and although they have borne themselves with soldierly 
composure, they have been at last driven clean down 
with heart-breaking losses. The guns, which the Chinese 
had been firing from the great Ha-taGate half a mile off, 
were advanced during the night of the 3Oth June to 
within a hundredyards of the imperfect German defences, 
and on the ist of July four marines were killed and 
six wounded out of a post of fifteen men with nerve-shak- 
ing rapidity. The Chinese soldiers, then swarming for- 
ward under the Tartar Wall itself, threatened the little 
blockhouse at the base, which kept up connection with 
the Club and the German Legation line of barricades, 
and soon there was no help for it, the eastern Tartar 
Wall posts had to be abandoned. With the German re- 
tirement the Americans abandoned their positions facing 
west and rushed down to safety below. It cannot be 
said that the Americans are afraid; they have merely 
realised from the beginning what a few of us have un- 
derstood. The motley crowd gathered in the British 
Legation, as well as our commander-in-chief, were 
much stirred by the American retirement, for they 
already saw themselves directly bombarded from the 
menacing height of the city walls a prospect which 
can enchant no one, as the confusion already reigning 
would have been worse confounded had all the elderly 
persons been given a taste of what the outworks are 
experiencing. So a council of war was hastily convened 
very much after the style of the Boer commandoes, with 
everybody talking at once, and it was at once decided 



174, INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

that the blessed Tartar Wall must be at once re- 
occupied at any cost. A mixed force, under the com- 
mand of the American captain, stormed back again, 
and with a rush found themselves back in their old quar- 
ters with everything intact. The representation of the 
American marines had at last made themselves felt, for 
British marines took the places of half the Americans, 
who were given duty elsewhere. We thought that that 
had solved the question. 

But this was on the ist of the month. To-day, the 
3d of the month, the position became once more unten- 
able, for the Chinese, now being able to attack the wall 
defences from both sides, were pushing their barricades 
rapidly closer and closer until only a few feet separated 
them from their prey. So more men were called for, 
and this morning, after a short harangue, a storming- 
party, numbering sixty bayonets and composed of Brit- 
ish, Americans and Russians, dashed over into the Chi- 
nese lines, killing thirty of the enemy and driving the 
rest back in great confusion. It was a brilliant little 
affair and well conducted, but unfortunately Captain 

M , who commanded, was wounded in the foot, 

and the Americans have no officer now fit to lead them. 
It is a curious fact worth recording that owing to 
wounds and staff work, neither the British nor Americans 
have any good officers left. It is only many days of this 
close-quarter fighting that shows you that without good 
officers no men care for moving out of shelter. Unless 
there are men who will sacrifice themselves, the ordinary 
rank and file feel under no obligation to do anything 
more arduous than to lie comfortably firing at the 
enemy. You can have no idea how hard it is to get men 
to make sorties ; on the slightest provocation, once they 



SHELLS AND SORTIES 175 

have left their own barricades, they rush back to 
safety. . . . 

Fortunately with all these events, we have been given 
something else to think about, and it is a thing of this 
sort which re-establishes confidence more than any war- 
like deeds. I mention it because it is the simple truth. 
It is also a pretty commentary on la bete humaine. 

You remember the V-shaped barricade garrisoned by 
Russian sailors, I spoke about a few days ago ? Well, 
if you do not happen to remember, I merely need say 
again, that it is a barricade facing both ways on Lega- 
tion Street, which now in the fulness of time has blos- 
somed into a whole network of barricades which protect 
our inner lines and the British Legation base from any 
rush of the enemy which might succeed momentarily in 
getting past our outworks. The Russian sailors who 
furnish these posts have been having a very easy time 
with nothing to do but to eat and to sleep, and to mount 
guard, turn and turn about. Of course, this comparative 
idleness in all the storm and stress around us gave them 
time to look around and to loot the vacant houses near 
them. Not content with this, some of them discovered 
that a large number of buxom Chinese schoolgirls from 
the American missions were lodged but a stone's throw 
from their barricades. The missionaries, fearing that 
some scandal might occur, had placed some elderly na- 
tive Christians in charge of the schoolgirls, with the 
strictest orders to prevent any one from entering their 
retreat. This was effective for some time. One dark 
night, however, when the usual fusillade along the outer 
lines began, the sailors made tremendous preparations 
for an attack which they said was bound to reach them. 
At eleven o'clock they developed the threatened attack 



170 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

by emptying a warning rifle or two in the air. Then 
warming to their work, and with their dramatic Slav 
imaginations charmed with the wise en scene, they 
emptied all their rifles into the air. Then they started 
firing volley after volley that crashed horribly in the 
narrow lanes, retreating the while into the forbidden 
area. Fiercely fighting their imaginary foe they fell 
back slowly; and as soon as the elderly native converts 
had sufficiently realised the perils to which they were 
exposed, these cowardly males fled hurriedly through 
the passageways which have been cut into the British 
Legation. The sailors then placed their rifles against 
a wall and disappeared. Unfortunately for them a 
strong guard sent to investigate this unexpected firing 
almost immediately appeared, and presently the sailors 
were rescued, some with much scratched faces. The 
girls, catlike, had known how to protect themselves I 

The next day there was a terrible scene, which every- 
body soon heard about. Baron von R , the Russian 

commander, on being acquainted with the facts of the 
affair, swore that his honour and the honour of Russia 
demanded that the culprits be shot. I shall never forget 

that absurd scene when R , who speaks the vilest 

English, demanded with terrible gestures that the ring- 
leaders be identified by the victims. It was pointed out 
to him that the affair had occurred when all was dark 
that the whole post was implicated that it was im- 
possible to name any one man. Then R swore he 

would shoot the whole lot of them as a lesson; he would 
not tolerate such things. But the very next day, when a 
notice was posted on the bell-tower of the British Lega- 
tion forbidding every one under severe penalties to ap- 
proach this delectable building, R had his revanche 



SHELLS AND SORTIES 177 

a la Russe, as he called it. Taking off his cap, and as- 
suming a very polite air of doubt and perplexity, he 
inquired of the lady missionary committee which oversees 
the welfare of these girls, "Pardon, mesdames," he said 
purposely in French, Beetle affiche est-ce settlement pour 
les civiles ou aussi pour les militaires/" 



VII 

THE HOSPITAL AND THE GRAVEYARD 

5th July, 1900. 



It depends very much on moments as to whether one 
has time to laugh or to cry. The last time I wrote, we 
were nearly all laughing when we had the time ; to-day 
most of us are doing the reverse. Be one ever so hard- 
ened, it is impossible to go to the humble hospital and 
the little graveyard of our battered lines without tender 
feelings welling up, and perhaps even a silent tear drop- 
ping. We have all been to either one or the other place 
to-day; our losses are mounting up. In the hospital 
alone there are now fifty sorely wounded and tortured 
men, groaning and moving this way and that. The 
bullet and shell wounds have so far been distinguished 
for their deadliness, probably because of the close ranges 
at which we are fighting. It is a strange assembly, in all 
truth, to be mustered within the precincts of a diplomatic 
Chancery, wherein were prepared only a few short weeks 
ago dry-as-dust documents, which so hastened the storm 
by not promptly arresting it. For the Chancery of the 
British Legation is now the hospital, and on despatch 
tables, lately littered with diplomatic documents, opera- 
tions are now almost hourly performed and muttered 
groans wrung from maimed men. It is a curious thought 
this to think that the vengeance of foolish despatches 
overtakes innocent men and lays them groaning and 
bleeding on the very spot where the ink which framed 



THE HOSPITAL AND THE GRAVEYARD 179 

them flowed. It does not often happen that cause and 
effect meet like this. 

It is a wretched hospital, too, even though it is the best 
which can be made. Every window has to be bricked in 
partially; every entrance where bullets might flick in 
must be closed; and in the heat and dust of a Peking 
summer the stench is terrible. Worse still are the flies, 
which, attracted by the newly spilt blood of strong men, 
swarm so thickly that another torture is added. Half 
the nationalities of Europe lie groaning together, each 
calling in his native tongue for water, or for help to 
loosen a bandage which in the shimmering heat has 
become unbearable. And as the rifle cracking rises to 
the storm it always does every few hours, more men 
will be brought in and laid on that gruesome operating 
table. The very passageways have been already in- 
vaded by men lying on long chairs, because there are no 
more beds. Even they are happy; they have crept to a 
place where they can gasp in quiet; that is all they 
ask for. 

In a hideous little room at the back the dead are pre- 
pared for their last resting place prepared in a manner 
which is shocking, but is the best that can be done. I 
cannot describe it. In the cool of the evening, when 
perhaps the enemy's fire has slackened a little, and the 
bullets only sob very faintly overhead, and the shells 
have ceased their brutal attentions, stretcher parties 
come quietly and carry out the corpses. That is the 
worst sight of all. 

There are no coffins, and the dead, shrouded in white 
cloth, have sometimes their booted feet pushing through 
the coarse fabric in which they are sewn. Never shall I 
forget the sight of one man, a great, long fellow, who 



ISO INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

seemed immense in his white shroud. A movement of 
the bearers struggling under his unaccustomed weight 
burst his winding sheet, and his feet shot out as if he 
were making a last effort to escape from the pitiless grasp 
of Mother Earth extending her arms towards him in the 
form of a narrow trench. There was something hideous 
and terrible in these booted feet One man, unnerved 
at the sight, gave a short cry, as if he had been struck. 
That is the brutal side of life death. 

There is also no room and not time to give each one a 
separate grave, these our dead; and so, strapped to a 
plank, they are lowered into the ground, a few 
shovelfuls of earth are hastily dropped in on top, and 
then another corpse is laid down. Sometimes there are 
three or four in a single grave, and when the grave is 
filled up the dead men's order is written on rough 
crosses. That is all. 

At such burials you may see the real truth which is 
hidden by the mask of every-day life. Men you thought 
were good fellows turn out to be hearts of stone ; the true 
hearts of gold are generally those who are devil-may- 
care and indifferently regarded when there is no Sturm 
und Drang. I, who have never been religious, begin to 
understand what such phrases mean "that many are 
called, but few are chosen." It is not possible that the 
final valuation can be that of the every-day world. 
Then, when I think of these things, I long to get away 
from this imprisonment ; to revalue things in a new light; 
to see and to understand. 

But as you pass away from this torture room and this 
execution ground a sullen anger seizes you. Why should 
so many be called why should we die thus in a 
hole? . . , 



VIII 
THE FAILURE 

6th July, 1900. 



I have always found that there is a corrective for 
everything in this world. Action is the best one of all, 
people say. It is not always so. 

The little Japanese colonel stood this morning pulling 
his thin moustaches very thoughtfully and looking 
earnestly ahead of him when I came on duty with a 
dozen others. In front was a great mass of ruins, con- 
cealing a couple of entrenched posts of our own men, 
where I was going, and farther on, half masked by the 
ruins, some of the enemy's advanced barricades lay. 

"I think," said the colonel finally, pronouncing on the 
situation with inherited Japanese caution, "that it will 
be very difficult, but we must try." 

He referred to the wretched Chinese gun belonging to 
the redoubtable Tung Fu-hsiang, as we had discovered 
from big banners pitched near by, which had been 
steadily and methodically smashing in the northern 
front of our defence, and was fast rendering our lines 
untenable here. We always went on duty at these posts 
with little enthusiasm. We could not hit back. Another 
gun, a newcomer, had also been posted somewhere near 
the ruins of the Chinese Customs, as if encouraged by 
the success of the other one, and was now playing on 
the main-gate posts of the Su wang-fu, and rendering 



182 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

even these more and more dangerous for us to hold 
permanently. 

The newcomer was, however, still, comparatively 
speaking, far away; it was our old friend we most 
dreaded. Well hidden, it pelted us with rusty but effec- 
tive shells night and day. To make another sortie was 
highly dangerous, for the ill-success of the first one in 
this quarter had certainly encouraged the Chinese, and 
this time we would have to be prepared for a very vigor- 
ous defence, which might bring on a series of counter- 
attacks. Then, too, the wall-split and barricaded 
grounds beyond our own feeble defences meant that a 
single false step would lead us into an impasse from 
which we could not lightly escape. Rifle-fire would pelt 
us at close quarters, shells would burst right in our midst; 
it was not a pleasant prospect even for the biggest fire- 
eaters of our lines. We had, however, to remember that 
so long as we held firm on the outer rim of our ruins 
would the enormous piles of brickwork which lie around, 
either in the form of ruined houses or wrecked com- 
pound walls, act as traverses and make the heavy rifle 
and cannon fire being poured in nothing very terrible. 
But as soon as we are forced to abandon our advanced 
lines the enemy speedily will swarm in, and then no 
sortie, however well planned, can dislodge him. He 
will make our best defences his parallels and in a week 
he will be able to split us in half. These things made 
immediate action really advisable, and soon the word 
was passed round that a big sortie was to be made at 
once. 

Once more all the morning was spent in making prep- 
arations. Marines and volunteer reserves were brought 
over from the British Legation to line the trenches and 



THE FAILURE 183 

barricades, and cover the advance with a heavy rifle fire; 
the Italians, who were to co-operate by jumping down 
off their northwestern hillock and rushing forward, were 
warned for duty, and had fresh ammunition served out 
to them ; and finally volunteers were called for, and the 
command of the sortie handed over to a Japanese officer, 
Captain A . 

When everything was ready, we stood for a minute 
massed together while some parting instructions were 
given. We presented a curious and unique spectacle* 
There were fifteen Japanese sailors in the dirty remains 
of their blue uniforms, without caps or jumpers, with 
broken boots and begrimed faces ; and alongside of them 
were twenty-five miscellaneous volunteers, some with 
bayonets to their rifles, some with none but all deter- 
mined to get home on the enemy at all costs this time. 
There had been sixteen days' incessant work at the 
trenches and barricades with next to no sleep. Mud and 
brickwork clung to us all with an insistence which no 
amount of rough dusting would remove. We were a 
tattered and disreputable crowd. 

There was little time to reflect or to cast one's eyes 
around, however, for no sooner had Captain A re- 
ceived his last instructions than his bugler sounded the 
charge, and from the Italian lines, eight hundred feet 
away, which were hidden from us by walls and trees, 
came an answering blast The Italians were ready. I 
gripped my rifle and took the flank of my detachment. 

We tumbled forward in silence, forty effectives in all, 
with a couple dozen native converts behind us, who 
had been provided with some of the captured rifles and 

swords. As soon as we were clear, Captain A , 

who was a tiny man, even among a tiny race, drew a 



184 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

little sword, and pointing to the enemy's barricades now 
looming up very close, ordered his bugler to sound the 
charge once more. The notes ripped out, and giving 
a mixed attempt at a European cheer, we quickened our 
pace, running as rapidly as we could over the rubbish 
which covered the ground and taking advantage of 
every piece of cover. A few stray shots pecked at us, 
but in this quarter, so strange that it appeared unreal, 
the enemy gave hardly a sign of life. Behind us, on 
our left, a tremendous fusillade was in progress, and the 
cracking of the rifles came back to us in one high-pitched 
roar. But the intervening trees and the ruins did not 
allow us to see or understand what was the cause. We 
had completely lost touch with the others. 

Rushing round a corner, we suddenly came on the gun 
we had been sent to capture; it was perched high on a 
long, loopholed barricade, and stood quite silent and 
alone. We gave a shout and pitched forward in a 
momentary ecstasy of delight, but like a flash the scene 
around us changed. Dozens of soldiers jumped up 
around us, looking every bit like startled pheasants in 
their bright uniforms, and retired, firing rapidly. This, 
as if a preconcerted plan, was the signal for a tremen- 
dous fire on all sides 9 which absolutely surprised us. 
From every adjacent ruin and roof the enemy appeared 
by magic, and fired at us with ever-increasing vigour. 
Now just above us the selfsame gun which had de- 
molished my outpost house a few days before loomed 
invitingly, and determined to have our revenge and stick 
the gunners like pigs if we could only get to grips, a 
knot of us ran on. The bugler blew a few sharp notes 
to rally some of those who were hanging back in con- 
fusion, and finally, riflemen in advance and the converts 



THE FAILURE 185 

herded tremblingly behind by a brave Japanese Secretary 
of Legation in spectacles, we succeeded in climbing up 
on to the gun platform. The gunners, who had been 
lying beside their weapon, fled precipitately as soon as 
they saw our heads come over the barricade, but to our 
right and left the enemy was now swarming forward 
with frantic yells. The converts, who were to drag off 
the gun while we covered them with our rifles and 
bayonets, could not be made to advance, but clung to the 
walls screaming piteously. We beat some of them over 
the head with our rifle-butts and kicked them savagely 
in a fever of anxiety to put some spirit in them, but 
nothing could move them forward. It must be always 
so ; the Christian Chinaman face to face with his fierce, 
heathen countrymen is as a lamb ; he cannot fight. Then 
before we knew it the little Japanese captain was on the 
ground, two or three Japanese sailors fell too, a sauve 
qui peut began, and everything was in inextricable dis- 
order. The Chinese commanders, seeing our plight, 
urged their men forward, and soon hundreds of rifles 
were crashing at us, and savage-looking men in brightly 
coloured tunics and their red trouser-covers swinging in 
the breeze leaped forward on us. It was a terrible sight. 
There was nothing to do but to retire, which we did, 
dragging in our wounded with brutal energy. At a 
ruined wall, half a dozen of us made a stand, covering 
the retreat, which had degenerated into a rout, and, 
firing steadily at a close range, we dropped man after 
man. Some of the Kansu soldiers rushed right up to us, 
and only fell a few feet from our rifles, yelling, "Sha, 
Ska," kill, kill, to the last moment; and one fellow, 
as he was beaten down, threw a sword, which stabbed 
one of our men in the thigh and terribly wounded him. 



186 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

It must have been all over in a very few minutes, for 
the next thing I remember is that we were all inside our 
lines again, and that my knees were bleeding profusely 
from the scrambling over barricades and ruins. We 
were completely out of breath from the excitement and 
the running, and most of us were crimson with rage at 
our ill-success when we had practically had everything in 
our own hands. Every one was for shooting a convert 
or two as an example for the rest, but in the end it came 
to nothing. Meanwhile the fusillade against us grew 
enormously in vigour. From every side bullets flicked 
in huge droves. The Chinese, as if incensed at our 
enterprise, strove to repay us by pelting us unmercifully, 
and awakened into action by this persistent firing, the 
roar of musketry and cannon soon extended to every 
side until it crashed with unexampled fury. Messages 
came from half a dozen quarters for the reserves to 
be sent back, and in the hurry and general confusion 
we could not learn what had happened to the Italians 
or the rest of the enterprise. 

Meanwhile our wounded were lying on the ground, and 
the news soon spread that the Japanese surgeon had pro- 
nounced the little captain's case hopeless. I went to see 
him as soon as I could, and seldom have I seen a more 
pitiful sight. Lying on a coat thrown on the ground, 
with his side torn open by an iron bullet, the stricken 
man looked like a child who had met with a terrible 
accident. He could not have been more than five feet 
high, and his sword, which was a tiny blade, about thirty 
inches long, was strapped to his wrist by a cord, wHIch 
he refused to have released. Beating his arms up and 
down in the air with that tiny sword bobbing with them, 
he struggled to master the pain, but the effort was too 



THE FAILURE 187 

great for him, and he kept moaning in spite of himself. 
A few feet from him sat a wounded Japanese sailor, 
who had been struck in the knee hy a soft-nosed bullet. 
His trousers had been ripped up to put on a field dress- 
ing, and never have I before seen a more ghastly wound. 
The bullet had drilled into his knee-cap in a neat little 
hole, but the soft metal, striking the bony substance 
within, had splashed as it progressed through, with the 
result that the hole made on coming out was as big as 
the knee-cap itself. The sailor bore his wound with a 
stoicism which seemed to me superhuman. The sweat 
was pouring off his face in his agony, but he had stuffed 
a cap into his mouth so that he might not disgrace him- 
self by crying out, and even in his agony he lay perfectly 
still, with staring eyes, as he waited to be carried to 
the operating table. 

Presently the captain died with a sudden stiffening, and 
news came in from a number of other posts that men 
were falling, and we must detach some of ours to rein- 
force threatened points. In utter gloom the day ended, 
and miserably tired, we got hardly any sleep until the 
small hours. 



IX 

AN INTERLUDE 

8th July, 1900. 



And yet in spite of such things there are plenty of 
interludes. For of the nine hundred and more European 
men, women and children besieged in the Legation lines, 
many are playing no part at all. There are, of course, 
some four hundred marines and sailors, and more than 
two hundred women and children. The first are 
naturally ranged in the fighting line; the second can be 
but non-combatants. But of the remainder, two hun- 
dred and more of whom are able-bodied, most are shirk- 
ing. There are less than eighty taking an active part 
in the defence the eighty being all young men. The 
others have claimed the right of sanctuary, and will do 
nothing. At most they have been induced to form 
themselves into a last reserve, which, I hope, may never 

be employed. If it is The duties of this reserve 

consist in mustering round the clanging bell of the 
Jubilee Tower in the British Legation when a general 
alarm is rung. When the firing becomes very heavy that 
bell begins clanging. 

There was a general alarm the other night when I 
happened to be off duty, and I stopped in front of the 
bell-tower to see it all. The last reserve tumbled from 
their sleeping-places in various stages of deshabille, all 
talking excitedly. The women had too much sense to 



AN INTERLUDE 189 

move a great deal, although the alarm might be a signal 
for anything. A few of them got up, too, and came out 
into the open ; but the majority stayed where they were. 
Presently the commander-in-chief appeared in person in 
his pyjamas, twirling his moustaches, and listened to 
the increasing fusillade and cannonade directed against 
the outposts. The din and roar, judged by the din and 
roar of every-day life, may have been nerve-breaking^ 
but to any one who had been so close to it for eighteen 
days it was nothing exceptional. The night attack, 
which had been heralded after the usual manner by a 
fierce blowing of trumpets, simply meant thousands of 
rifles crashing off together, and as far as the British 
Legation was concerned, you might stand just as safely 
there as on the Boulevard des Italiens or in Piccadilly. 
There was a tremendous noise, and swarms of bullets 
passing overhead, but that was all. The time had not 
arrived for actual assaults to be delivered; there was 
too much open ground to be covered. 

The groups of reserves stood and listened in awe, the 
commander-in-chief twirled his moustaches with com- 
posure, and two or three other refugee Plenipotentiaries 
slipped out and nervously waited the upshot of it all. 
It was a very curious scene. Well, the fusillade soon 
reached the limit of its crescendo, and then with de- 
lighted sighs, the diminuendo could plainly be divined. 
The Chinese riflemen, having blazed off many rounds 
of ammunition, and finding their rifle barrels uncom- 
fortably warm, were plainly pulling them out of their 
loopholes and leaning them up against the barricades. 
The diminuendo became more and more marked, and 
finally, except for the usual snipers' shots, all was over. 
So the reserves were dismissed and went contentedly off 



190 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

to bed. As far as the actual defence was concerned, 
this comedy might have been left unplayed. In the 
dense gloom those men could never have been moved 
anywhere. Such a manoeuvre would have brought 
about a panic at once, for there is little mutual confi- 
dence, and nothing has been done to promote it. 

At first, in the hurry and scurry and confusion of the 
initial attacks, when everything and everybody was un- 
prepared and upset, this state of things escaped atten- 
tion. Now all the fighting line is becoming openly 
discontented. There is favouritism and incompetency 
in everything that is being done. Two days ago a 
young Scotch volunteer got killed almost on purpose, 
because he was sick and tired of the cowardice and 
indecision. And now, not content with all this, there 
is a new folly. An alleged searchlight has been seen 

flickering on the skies at night, and M , the British 

Minister, has in a burst of optimism declared that it is 

the relief under S signalling to us. Yet there 

are men who know exactly what it is the opening of 
the doors of a blast-furnace in the Chinese city, which 
sends up a ruddy light in certain weather. 

Discipline is becoming bad, too, and sailors and vol- 
unteers off duty are looting the few foreign stores en- 
closed in our lines. Everything is being taken, and the 
native Christians, finding this out, have been pouring in 
in bands when the firing ceases and wrecking everything 
which they cannot carry away* 

A German marine killed one, and several have been 
dangerously wounded. In our present condition any- 
thing is possible. Still, the fortification work is proceed- 
ing steadily, and the appearance of the base, the British 
Legation, has been miraculously changed. Enormous 



AN INTERLUDE 191 

quantities of sandbags have been turned out and placed 
in position, and all the walls are now loopholed. With 
all this access of strength, we are much more secure, 
and yet our best contingents are being very slowly but 
very continuously shot to pieces. Our casualty list is 
now well into the second hundred, and as the line of 
defenders thins, the men are becoming more savage* In 
addition to looting, there have been a number of attempts 
on the native girl converts, which have been hushed 
up. . . . Ugly signs are everywhere, and the position 
becomes from day to day less enviable. 



X 

THE GUNS 

I Oth July, 1900. 



Had we a single gun how different it would be ! We 
could parade it boldly under the enemy's nose ; sweep his 
barricades and his advanced lines away in a cloud of 
dust and brick-chips ; bombard his camps which we have 
located; make him sorry and ashamed ... as it is we 
can do nothing ; we have not a single piece which can be 
called serious artillery; and we must suffer the segment 
which the enemy affects in almost complete silence. Lis- 
ten to our list of weapons. 

First, there is the Italian one-pounder firing ballistite. 
It is absolutely useless. Its snapping shells are so 
small that you can thrust them in your pocket with- 
out noticing them. This gun is merely a plaything. 
And yet being the best we have, it is wheeled unendingly 
around and fired at the enemy from a dozen different 
points. It may give confidence, but that is all it can 
give. The other day I watched it at work on a heavy 
barricade being constructed by night and day by the 
methodical enemy. By night the Chinese soldiery work 
as openly as they please, for no outpost may waste its 
ammunition by indiscriminate shooting. But during 
the day, orders or no orders, it has become rash for the 
enemy to expose himself to our view; and even the fleet- 
ing glimpse of a moving hand is made the excuse for a 



THE GUNS 193 

hailstorm of fire. This has made excessive caution the 
order of the day, and you can almost believe, when no 
rifles are firing to disturb such a conviction, that there 
are only dead men round us. Yet with nothing to be 
seen, countless hands are at work; in spite of the greatest 
vigilance barricades and barriers grow up nearer and 
nearer to us both night and day; we are being tied in 
tighter. These mysterious barricades, built in parallels, 
are so cunningly constructed that our fiercest sorties 
must in the end beat themselves to pieces against brick 
and stone ; if the enemy can complete his plans we shall 
be choked silently. That is why the Italian gun is so 
often requisitioned. 

I was saying that I watched the one-pounder at work 
against the enemy's brick-bound lines. Each time, as 
ammunition is becoming precious, the gun was more care- 
fully sighted and fired, and each time, with a little 
crash, the baby shell shot through the barricades, boring 
a ragged hole six or eight inches in diameter. Two or 
three times this might always be accomplished with 
everything on the Chinese side silent as death. The cun- 
ning enemy ! Then suddenly, as the gun was shifted a 
bit to continue the work of ripping up that barricade, 
attention would be distracted, and before you could ex- 
plain it the ragged holes would be no more. Unseen 
hands had repaired the damage by pushing up dozens of 
bricks and sandbags, and before the game could be 
opened again, unseen rifles were rolling off in their 
dozens and tearing the crests of our outworks. In that 
storm of brick-chips, split sandbags and dented nickel, 
you could *not move or reply. That is the Italian gun. 

The next most useful weapon should be the Austrian 
machine-gun, which is a very modern weapon, and 



194 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

throws Mannlicher bullets at the rate of six hundred to 
the minute. Yet it, too, is practically useless. It has 
been tried everywhere and found to be defective. When 
it rattles at full speed, it has been seen that its sighting 
is illusory that it throws erratically high in the air, 
and that ammunition is simply wasted. It cannot help 
us in the slightest. The value of machine-guns has been 
always overrated. 

Then there is a Nordenfeldt belonging to the British 
marines, and a very small Colt, which was brought up by 
the Americans. The Nordenfeldt is absolutely useless 
and now refuses to work; the Colt is so small, being 
single-barrelled, that it can only do boy's work. Yet this 
Colt is the most satisfactory of all, and when we have 
dragged it out with us and played it on the enemy, it has 
shot true and straight They say it has killed more men 
than all the rest put together. . . . 

There should be a Russian gun, too a good Russian 
gun of respectable calibre. But although the shells were 
brought, a thousand of them, too, the gun was forgotten 
at the Tientsin Station ! Such a thing could only happen 
to Russians, everybody says. But some people say it 

was forgotten on purpose, because De G had 

received absolute assurance from the Chinese Govern- 
ment that the Russian Legation would not be attacked 
under any circumstances, and that sailors were only 
brought up to keep faith with the other Powers. .... 
This miserable list, as you will see, means that we have 
nothing with which to reply to the enemy's fire. We 
are not so proud and foolish as to wish to silence the 
guns ranged against us, but, at least, we should be able 
to make some reply. In desperation, the sailor-gunners 
tried to manufacture a crude piece of ordnance by lash- 



THE GUNS 10.5 

ing iron and steel together, and encasing it in wood. 
Fortunately it was never fired, for in the nick of time 
an old rusty muzzle-loader has been discovered in a 
blacksmith's shop within our lines, and has been made to 
fire the Russian ammunition by the exercise of much in- 
genuity. It belches forth mainly flames, and smokes and 
makes a terrific report. Some say this is as useful as a 
modern twelve-pounder. . . . 

About the Chinese guns we can find out very little, 
excepting that none, or very few, of the modern weapons 
which are in stock at Peking have been used against us. 
There are at most only nine or ten in constant use ; per- 
haps the others have been dragged away down the long 
Tientsin road. But even these nine or ten, if they were 
worked together, would nearly wreck us. Our sorties 
have pushed some of them back. 

Two of these guns are being fired at us from a staging 
on the Palace wall sometimes regularly and persist- 
ently, sometimes as if they had fallen under the influ- 
ence of the conflicting factors which are struggling to 
win the day in the Palace. If they bombarded us with- 
out intermission for twenty-four hours, they would ren- 
der the British Legation almost untenable. Two or 
three more guns are on the Tartar Wall; three or four 
are ranged against the Su wang-fu and French lines; 
some are kept travelling round us searching for a weak 
spot. They have no system or fire-discipline. Some use 
shrapnel and segment; others fire solid round shot all 
covered with rust. Silent sometimes with a mysterious 
silence for days at a time, they come to life again sud- 
denly in a blaze of activity, and wreak more ruin in a 
few minutes than weeks of rifle fusillade and days of fir- 
ing on the fringe of outer buildings. And yet we cannot 



196 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

complain. We have so many walls, so many houses, 
so many trees, so many obstructions of every kind, that 
they cannot get a clear view of anything. These sing- 
ing shells, which might breach any one part, were the 
guns massed and their fire continuous, are sneered at by 
most of us already. Provided you can lie low, shell-fire 
soon loses even its moral effect 



XI 

SNIPING 



The siege has now become such a regular business 
with every one that there are almost rules and regula- 
tions, which, if not promulgated among besieged and 
besiegers, are, at least, more or less understood things. 
Thus, for instance, after one or two in the morning the 
crashing of rifles around us is always quite stilled; the 
gunners have long ceased paying us their attentions, 
and a certain placid calmness comes over all. The moon 
may then be aloft in the skies; and if it is, the Tartar 
Wall stands out clear and black, while the ruined en- 
trenchments about us are flooded in a silver light which 
makes the sordidness of our surroundings instantly dis- 
appear in the enchantment of night. Our little world is 
tired; we have all had enough; and even though they 
may run the risk of being court-martialled, it is always 
fairly certain that by three or four in the morning half 
the outposts and the picquets will be dead asleep. It 
was not like that in the beginning, for then nobody 
slept much night or day; and if one did, it was only 
to awake with a moan, the result of some weird night- 
mare. 

Now with the weeks which have gone by since we 
broke off relations with the rest of the world it is quite 
different, and we pander to our little weakness of forty 
winks before a loophole, although orderly officers may 
stumble by all night on their rounds and curse and swear 



198 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

at this state of affairs. By training yourself, however, 
I have found that you can practically sleep like a dog, 
with one eye open and both ears on the alert that light 
slumber which the faintest stirring immediately breaks ; 
when you are like this you can do your duty at a 
loophole. 

It is such dull work, too, In front of the eternal loop- 
holes, with nothing but darkness and thick shadows 
around you, and the rest of a post of four or five men 
vigorously snoring. The first half hour goes fairly 
quickly, and, perhaps, even the second ; but the last hour 
is dreary, tiresome work. And when your two hours are 
-ap, and contentedly you kick your relief on the ground 
beside you, he only moans faintly, but does not stir. 
Dead with sleep is he. Then you kick him again with 
all that zest which comes from a sense of your own lost 
slumbers, and once more he moans in his fatigue, more 
loudly this time, but still he does not move. 

Finally, in angry despair you land the butt of your rifle 
brutally on his chest, and he will start up with a cry or 
an oath. 

"Time," you mutter. The relief grumblingly rises to 
his feet, rubbing his glued eyes violently, and asks you if 
there is anything. "Nothing," you answer curtly. It is 
always nothing, for although the enemy's barricades 
rear themselves perhaps not more than twenty or thirty 
feet from where you stand, you know that it takes a lusty 
stomach to rush that distance and climb your fortifica- 
tions and ditches in the dark in the face of the furious fire 
which sooner or later would burst out. For we under- 
stand our work now. Experience is the only school- 
master. 

So with your two hours on and your four hours off the 



SNIPING 199 

night spends itself and dawn blushes in the skies. It is 
in all truth weary work, those long watches of the 
night. . . . Sometimes even your four hours' sleeping 
time is rudely broken into by half a dozen alarms; for 
separated sometimes by hundreds of feet from your 
comrades of the next post, the instinct of self-preserva- 
tion makes you line your loopholes and peer anxiously 
into the gloom beyond, when any one of the enemy 
shows that he is afoot. A single rifle-shot spitting off 
near by is as often as not the cause of the alarm; for 
that rifle-shot cracking out discordantly and awakening 
the echoes may be the signal for the dread rush which 
would spell the beginning of the end. Once one line is 
broken into we know instinctively that the confusion 
which would follow would engulf us alL There is no 
confidence. . . . 

When you have time you may relieve this monotony 
by sniping. 

In the early morning, the very early morning, is the 
time for this work say, roughly, between the hours of 
four and six, when the soldier Chinaman beyond our 
lines is yawningly arousing himself from his slumbers 
and squats blinking and inattentive before his morning 
tea. Then if you are a natural hunter, are inclined to 
risk a good deal, and something of a quick shot, you 
may have splendid chances which teach you more than 
you could ever learn by months in front of targets. 
Baron von R , the cynical commander of the Rus- 
sian detachment, is the crack sniper of us all, because he 
has not a great deal to do in the daytime, and, also, be- 
cause beyond his lines of the Russian Legation all is gen- 
erally quiet with a curious and suggestive quietness. At 
four in the morning R , with his sailor's habits, gen- 



200 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

erally rises, shakes himself like a dog, lights his eternal 
Russian cigarette, takes a few whiffs, and then sallies 
forth with a Mannlicher carbine and a clip of five car- 
tridges. His sailors are duly warned to cover him if he 
has to retire in disorder, but so far he has met with no 
mishap. Cautiously pushing out beyond his barricades, 
he climbs a ruined wall, reaches the top and buries him- 
self in the dust in pleasant anticipation of what will 
follow. 

Presently he is rewarded. A Chinese brave comes out 
into the open, selects a corner, and sits down to smoke 
under cover of a barricade. The Baron pushes his clip 
of cartridges deliberately into the magazine, shoots one 
into the rifle barrel through the feed, and then very cau- 
tiously and very slowly draws a steady bead on the man. 
I have seen him at work. Five seconds may go by, per- 
haps even ten, for the Baron allows himself only one 
shot in each case, and then bang ! the bullet speeds on its 
way, and the Chinaman rolls over bored through and 
through. On a good day the bag may be two or three ; 
on a bad day the Russian commander returns with his 
five cartridges intact and a persistent Russian shrug, for 
he never fires In vain, and there are certain canons in 
this sport which he does not care to violate lightly. 

Myself, enamoured with this game, after I had 
watched the Russian commander two mornings, I, too, 
determined that I would embark on it, although I have 
no such leisure in the early hours. Eleven or twelve 
o'clock in the bright sunlight has become my hour, when 
the sun beats down hotly on our heads, and every one 
is drowsy with the noon-heat Then you may also catch 
the Chinaman smoking and drinking his tea once again, 
and if you are quick a dead man is your reward. Every 



SNIPING 201 

dead man puts another drop of caution into the 
attackers. It Is therefore good and useful. 

Yesterday I had great luck, for I got three men within 
very few minutes of one another ; and then when I was 
fondly imagining that I might pick off dozens more 
from my coign of vantage, I was swept back into our 
lines under such a storm of fire as I have never expe- 
rienced before. I should tell you that there are practi- 
cally only two shooting-grounds where this curious sport 
may be had; there are only two areas of brick and ruins 
where by judicious manoeuvring you may steal out and 
get the enemy on his exposed flank where no barricades 
protect him from an enfilading fire. These two areas 
lie opposite the Russian front, and beyond the extreme 
Japanese western posts of the Su wang-fu. Since the 
Russian front is the Russian commander's own preserve, 
it is from the Japanese posts that I work. 

On the day when I made my record bag, half-past 
eleven found everybody drowsy and the time propitious. 
Our northern Peking sun beats down pitilessly from the 
cloudless skies at such a time, and so I had the field 
completely to myself. Firing had ceased absolutely on 
all sides, and the Chinese had begun to sleep. Crouch- 
ing low down I scurried across from the Japanese post 
to some ruins fifty feet off, and remained quietly squat- 
ting there, panting in the heat, to get myself bearings. 
Around me all was silent, and thirty or forty yards from 
where I lay I could see the brown face of the Japanese 
sailor laughing at me through a loophole. Presently 
bringing my glasses into play I swept the huge pile of 
ruined houses and streets lying huddled on all sides. 

There was not a twig stirring or a shadow moving. 
All was dead quiet. The main Chinese camp on this 



INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

side was placed in H 's abandoned compounds 

that we had discovered long ago but the battalions 
there were now apparently asleep with not so much as 
a sentry out. So, gaining confidence, I pushed on, work- 
ing parallel to Prince Su's outer walls and about fifty 
feet beyond them. Suddenly I stopped and dropped, 
quite by instinct, for although my mind had telegraphed 
the danger to my knees, I did not fully realise what it 
was until I was on the ground. Just round the corner 
there was a glimpse of three men stripped to the waist 
to be seen. Had they seen me? I waited in some sus- 
pense for a few seconds, pressed my glasses back into 
their case, and gripped my rifle. My anxiety was soon 
set at rest, for with a clatter, which seemed ten times 
greater than it really was, the men set quickly to work 
on a structure. They were building something, and now 
was my chance. Getting to the corner again I peered 
cautiously around, and there but seventy or eighty feet 
from where I lay three strapping fellows were raising a 
heavy log. They had pulled off their red and black 
tunics, and were only in their baggy breeches and the 
curious little stomach apron the Northern Chinaman 
affects to keep himself from catching cold. 

Their brown backs glistened with sweat in the bright 
sunshine, and between their belts and the loose black 
turbans, under which their pigtails were gathered up, 
an ideal two-feet target presented itself. Carefully I 
fired. 

In a flash one broad brown back was suddenly splashed 
with red, a fellow sank on his knees with outstretched 
arms, and at last rolled over without a moan, apparently 
as dead as dead could be. It was brutalising. 

The log the men were carrying crashed down heavily 



SNIPING 203 

on the ground and the two remaining soldiers started 
back in surprise. From whence came that shot? In 
front of where they were working lay their advanced 
posts, which, facing our own, two or three hundred feet 
away, should completely cover them. They peered 
around for a few minutes, anxiously searching their 
front and not looking behind them. At last they appar- 
ently decided that it must have been a stray shot, for, 
bending down, they once more raised the log, paying no 
more attention to their dead companion than they would 
to a dead dog. 

This time I let them advance towards their outposts 
until they were a hundred feet farther away. Then I 
fired again. The log came down once more with a dull 
thud, and both the men fell as well. But imagine my 
disgust when they both rose to their feet, one man 
merely showing the other a snipped shoulder which must 
be bleeding, but was evidently nothing as a wound. I 
cursed my government rifle, which always throws to the 
right. At less than a hundred yards such practice was 
disgraceful. This time both the men were aroused, and, 
abandoning their log, they disappeared round some 
ruins, only to reappear with their tunics on, their ban- 
doliers strapped round them, and their Mausers in their 
hands. They meant to have some revenge. I lost sight 
of them for quite ten minutes, only to have them both 
out again almost halfway between myself and the Jap- 
anese post from which I had sallied forth. I was cut off ! 
I would have to wipe those two men out or else they 
would do that to me. 

They were in no hurry, however, for they began by 
beating the ground carefully and taking advantage of 
every piece of cover. They evidently suspected that 



204 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

some of our men had come out in skirmishing order and 
were still lying hidden ; at last one saw something. He 
had caught sight of the Japanese sentry who was looking 
out anxiously to see what had become of me. So rising 
hurriedly, the soldier fired at the brown Japanese face. 
Before he had sunk on his knees again I had drilled 
him fair with a snapshot in the head it must have been, 
because he went over with a piercing yell and with his 
hands plucking at his cap. The other man did not wait 
to see what would happen, but fled as fast as he could 
down a small lane that ran only twenty feet past me. 
Seeing the game was played out, I rose and fired rapidly 
from under the crook of my arm and missed. Reload- 
ing as I scrambled after him, I drove another bullet at 
him, and he staggered wildly but did not fall. My 
blood was now up, and I was determined to get him, 
even if I had to follow into the Chinese camp, so I sped 
along too. The fellow was now yelling lustily, calling 
his comrades to his aid, and I seemed to be going mad 
in my excitement. I fired again as I ran, and must have 
hit him again, for he reeled still more ; then he turned 
totteringly into a ruined doorway. . . . 

Just as I determined that I must give it up the scene 
changed like the flash of a lamp. My quarry stumbled 
and fell flat; dozens of half-stripped men came charging 
towards me, loading as they ran, and almost before I 
knew it, the ground around me was ripped with bullets. 

Then in turn how I raced ! 

Such was the storm of fire around me that I nearly 
dropped my rifle so as to improve my pace, and all the 
moisture left my mouth. Holding grimly on I at last 
cleared the exposed ground, and jumped through into the 
Japanese barricades. In their rage the Chinese soldiery 



SNIPING 205 

rushed into the open after me, firing angrily all along 
the line, and before the loopholes could be properly 
manned and the fusillade returned they were almost up 
to us. Then, as always happens, they suddenly became 
irresolute, and trickled away, and from behind safe 
cover they poured in the same long-range rifle-fire. . . . 
This, however, is only an incident one which I pro- 
voked. Generally we are not so enterprising, but are 
inclined to accept events as they unroll. But this 
escapade proved to me that attacks are thrown against 
us only after special orders have been issued by the gov- 
ernment, and that the camps of soldiery established 
round our lines are as much to imprison us as to slay us. 
They have bound us in with brickworks, and they bom- 
bard us intermittently with nine or ten guns; but each 
bombardment and each attack seems to be conducted 
quite without any relation to the general situation- . . . 
Fortunately, then, although we are ill organised and 
badly commanded as a whole, our units are well led, 
and we meet the situation as it actually is on the best plan 
possible for the time being. But will this last? Will 
not something happen which will fling our enemy 
against us animated by one desire a desire to slay us 
one and all? It requires now but one rush of the thou- 
sands of armed men encamped about us to sweep our 
defence off the face of the earth like so many dried and 
worthless leaves. 



XII 

THE GALLANT FRENCH 

1 4th July, 1900. 



The post fighting Is becoming more desperate, and the 
French are steadily losing ground. Is it true that they 
are losing courage? Of course, every one knows that 
they are a gallant race, and that although the Germans, 
by their relentless science and unending attention to de- 
tail, are rated superior in machine-like warfare, they 
can never be quite like the brilliant conquerors of Jena, 
Austerlitz, and a hundred other battles ; and yet no one 
expected the French were going to cling to the ruins 
of their Legation with the bulldog desperation of which 
they complained in the English at Waterloo; a des- 
peration making each house a siege in itself, and only 
ending with the total destruction of that house by shells 
or fire; were going to treat all idea of retirement with 
contempt, although their shabby treatment caused them 
two weeks ago to temporarily evacuate their lines in a 
fit of moroseness, . . . This is what has happened until 
now, for the French have set their teeth, and now every 
one almost believes that nothing not even mines, 
shells, myriads of bullets, and foolish order after order 
from headquarters ordering men to be sent elsewhere 
will beat them back. And yet they cannot keep on this 
way for even All round them the connecting posts and 
blockhouses are losing more and more men, and matters 
are reaching a dangerous point. 



THE GALLANT FRENCH 207 

It is now nearly four weeks since the first bullet flicked 
out the brains of the first French sailor ten minutes after 
the opening of hostilities at barricades far away down 
Customs Street, and in these twenty-five days which have 
elapsed the French positions have been beaten into such 
shapeless masses that they are quite past recognition. I 
had not been there for a week, and was shocked when 
I saw how little remains. The Chinese have, foot by 
foot, gained more than half of the Legation, and all 
that is practically left to the defenders is their main-gate 
blockhouse, a long barricaded trench and the remains of 
a few houses. These they have sworn to retain until 
they are too feeble to hold. Then, and then only, will 
they retreat into the next line behind them, the fortified 
Hotel de Pekin, which has already four hundred shell 
holes in it. 

Yesterday's losses at the French lines were five men 
wounded, four blown up by a mine, of whom two never 
have been seen again, and two men killed outright by 
rifle-fire. Then the last houses were set fire to by Chi- 
nese soldiers, who, able to push forward in the excite- 
ment and confusion of the mine explosions, attempted 
to seize and hold these strategic points, and were only 
driven out by repeated counter-attacks. Sucfi events 
show that for some occult reason the Chinese commands 
are trying to carry the French lines by every possible 
device. ... It has been like this for a week now. 

For, from the yth of July, the Chinese commands, hav- 
ing prepared the ground for their attacks by a heavy 
cannonade lasting for sixty hours, which riddled every- 
thing above the ground level with gaping holes, started 
pushing forward through the breaches, and setting fire, 
by means of torches attached to long bamboo poles, to 



208 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

everything which would burn. No living men, no mat- 
ter how brave, can hold a glowing mass of ruins and 
ashes, and the Chinese were showing devilish cunning. 
Isolated combats took place along the whole French line 
in a vain effort to drive off the incendiaries, little 
sorties of two or three men furiously attacking the per- 
sistent enemy, and each time driving him back with loss, 
only to find him dribbling in again like muddy water 
through every hole and cranny in the imperfect defences. 
But even this did not do much good. No one could 
keep an accurate record of these curious encounters dur- 
ing the first few days, for they have succeeded one an- 
other with such rapidity that men have become too tired, 
too sleepy to wish to talk. They try to act, and some 
of their adventures have been astonishing. 

Thus a young Breton sailor, not more than seventeen 
years old, seeing men armed with swords collecting one 
night for a rush, jumped down among them from the 
top of an earthwork, and shot and bayonetted three or 
four of them before they had time to defend themselves. 
Then it took him half an hour to get back to safety by 
creeping from one hole in the ground to another and 
avoiding the rifle-fire. . . . 

Self-preservation makes it necessary to rush out thus 
single handed and ease your front. Every man killed 
is a discouragement, which holds the enemy bacjc 
a bit. 

Exploits of this nature must at length have shown the 
Chinese soldiery that they have to face men endowed 
with the courage of despair in this quarter; and fearing 
cold steel more than anything else, they have decided 
that the only way of reaching their prey is by blowing 
them up piecemeal. That is why they have taken to 



THE GALLANT FRENCH 209 

mining most audacious mining, carried on under the 
noses of the French defenders. If you come here at 
night, and remain until one of those curious lulls in the 
rifle-fire suddenly begins, you will distinctly hear this 
curious tapping of picks and shovels, which means the 
preparation of a gallery. 

So as to save time, such mining is not begun from be- 
hind the enemy's trenches; it is audaciously commenced 
in the ruins which litter some of the neutral territory, 
which neither side holds and into which Chinese des- 
peradoes creep as soon as it is dusk. For a few days the 
French did not dare to make sorties against such enter- 
prises, but some of the younger volunteers, discovering 
that these sappers were only armed with their tools, have 
taken to creeping out and butchering in the bowels of 
the earth. . . . This i<? terrible, but absolutely true. 

Thus a young volunteer, naned D , found, after 

watching for two days, that ? number of men crept into 
a tunnel mouth every nighc only twenty feet from his 
post, and began working 0:1 a mine right under his feet 
He decided to go out himself and kill them all. . . . 
He told me the story. He crept out two days ago as 
soon as he hid seen ihem go in, and, posting himself at 
the entrance, called on the men to come out, else he 
would block them in and kill them in the most miserable 
way he could think of. They came out, crawling on 
their hands and knees, and as each man slipped up to 
the leveS he was bayonetted ... in the end thirteen 

were killed like this. Three remained, but D 's 

strength was not equal to it, and he had to drive them in 

^s captives. Then they were despatched and beheaded. 

They say the French sailors slung back those heads far 

over into the advanced Chinese barricades with taunts 



210 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

and shouts. That stopped all work for a few hours. 
But it was not for long enough. 

Yesterday, the I3th, the Chinese had their revenge 
for the loss of the hundred odd men who have been shot 
or bayonetted along this front during the past week. 
At six in the evening, when the rifle-fire all along the 
line had become stilled, a tremendous explosion shook 
every quarter of our besieged area and made every one 
tremble with apprehension* Even in the most northerly 
part of our defences the Hanlin posts beyond the Brit- 
ish Legation, which are probably three or four thousand 
feet away the men said it was like an earthquake. In 
the French lines it seemed as if the end of the world 
had come. The Chinese, having successfully sapped 
right under one of the remaining fortified houses, had 
blown it up with a huge charge of black gunpowder. 

D ? the French commander, R , the Austrian 

Charge d'Afaires, the same indomitable volunteer 

D , and a picket of four French sailors were in the 

house, and were buried in the ruins. Hardly had the 
echoes of the first explosion died away, when a second 
one blew up another house, and out of the ruins were 
lifted, as if the powers of darkness had taken pity on 
them all, the defenders who had been buried alive, ex- 
cepting two. Never has such a thing been heard of 
before. Providence is plainly helping us. The 
wretched men thus cruelly treated were all the colour of 
death and bleeding badly when they were dragged out. 
The two missing French sailors must have been crushed 
into fragments. Only a foot has been found. . . . 

That was afterwards; for the mine explosions were 
the signals for a terrible bombardment and rifle-fire all ' 
along the line, from which we have not yet recovered. 



THE GALLANT FRENCH 211 

The French, more than a little shaken, were driven into 
their last trench the tranche Bartholin, which has just 
been completed. They held this to this morning and 
then counter-attacked. That is why I have found myself 
here. Reinforcements were rushed in by us at daybreak, 
and after a sleepless forty hours the Chinese advance 
has been fairly held. But for how long? If they act 
as earnestly during the next week we are finished ! 



XIII 
THE BRITISH LEGATION BASE 

1 5th July, 1900. 



Fortunately, startling events of the sort I have just 
described are confined to the outposts, and the half a 
dozen closely threatened points. Our main base, the 
British Legation, is little affected, and many in it do not 
appear to realise or to know anything of these frantic 
encounters along the outer lines. They can tell from 
the stretcher-parties that come in at all hours of the day 
and night, and pass down to the hospital, what success 
the Chinese fire is having, but beyond this they know 
nothing. They secretly hope, most of them, that it will 
remain like this to the end; that bullets and shells may 
scream overhead, but that they may be left attending to 
minor affairs. As I look around me, it appears more 
and more evident that self-preservation Is the dominant, 
mean characteristic of modern mankind. The universal 
attitude is : spare me and take all my less worthy neigh- 
bours. In gaining in skin-deep civilisation we have lost 
in the animal-fighting capacity. We are truly mainly 
grotesque when our lives are in danger. 

In the British Legation time has even been found to 
establish a model laundry, and several able-bodied men 
actually fought for the privilege of supervising it, they 
say, when the idea was mooted. 

Neither have our Ministers improved by the seasoning 



THE BRITISH LEGATION BASE 213 

process of the siege. Most of them have become so ridic- 
ulous, that they shun the public eye, and listen to the 
roar of the rifles from safe places which cannot be dis- 
covered. And yet fully half of them are able-bodied 
men, who might do valuable work; who might even take 
rifles and shoot. But it is they who give a ridiculous 
side, and for that, at least, one should be thankful. It 

is something to see P , the French Minister, starting 

out with his whole staff, all armed with fusils de chasse, 
and looking tres sportsman on a tour of inspection when 
everything is quiet. Each one is well told by his tearful 
wife to look out for the Boxers, to be on the alert 
as if Chinese banditti were lurking just outside the Lega- 
tion base to swallow up these brave creatures ! and in a 
compact body they sally forth. These are the married 
men ; marriage excuses everything when the guns begin 
to play. Thus the Secretary of Legation, whose name I 
will not divulge even with an initial, amused me im- 
mensely yesterday by calculating how much more valu- 
able he was to the State as a father of a family than an 
unmarried youngster like myself. He tried to prove to 
me that if he died the economic value of his children 
would suffer what a fool he was ! and that my own 
value capitalised after the manner of mathematicians 
was very small. I listened to him carefully, and then 
asked if the difference between a brave man and a 
coward had any economic significance. He became sud- 
denly angry and left me. Some of the besieged arfc be- 
coming truly revolting. 

Even P , who some people think ought to stay in 

the remains of his own Legation, is rather disgusted, 
and as he marches out in an embroidered nightshirt, with 
little birds picked out in red thread on it, he is not as ab- 



214 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

surd as I first thought. Poor man, he is attempting to 
do his duty after his own lights, and excepting two or 
three others, he has been the most creditable of all the 
elderly men, who think that position excuses everything. 
Labouring at the making of sandbags, the women sit 
under shelter, and keep company with those men who 
have not the stomach to go out. And as shells have 
been falling more and more frequently in and around 
this safe base, and rumour has told them that the outer 
lines may give way, bomb-proof shelters have been dug 
in many quarters ready to receive all those who are will- 
ing to crouch for hours to avoid the possibility of being 
hit. . . , 

Otherwise, there is nothing much to note in the British 
Legation, for here the storm and stress of the outer 
lines come back oddly enough quite faintly, excepting 
during a general attack. The dozens of walls account 
for that. In the evenings the missionaries now gather 

and sing hymns . . . sometimes Madame P , 

the wife of the great Russian Bank Director, takes com- 
passion, and gives an aria from some opera. She used 
to be a diva in the St. Petersburg Opera House, they 
say, years ago, and her voice comes like a sweet dream 
in such surroundings. A week ago a strange thing 
happened when she was giving an impromptu concert. 
She was singing the Jewel song from Faust so ringingly 
that the Chinese snipers must have heard it, for imme- 
diately they opened a heavy "fire," which grew to a per- 
fect tornado, and sent the listeners flying in terror. Per- 
haps the enemy thought it was a new war-cry, which 
meant their sudden damnation ! 

Yet we have had so much time to rectify all our mis- 
takes that things are in much better working order. 



THE BRITISH LEGATION BASE 215 

Public opinion has made the commander-in-chief dis- 
tribute the British marines in many of the exposed posi- 
tions, and thus allow inferior fighting forces to garrison 
the interior lines. Twice last week, before this redistri- 
bution had been completed, there was trouble with both 
the Italian and the Austrian sailors and some volunteers* 
Posts of them retreated during the night. . . . They 
gave as their excuse that they knew that the loose organ- 
isation would cause them to be sacrificed if the enemy 
began rushing. There is much to be said for them ; the 
general command had been disgraceful, especially dur- 
ing the night, when only good fortune saves us from an- 
nihilation. One single determined rush is all that is 
needed to end this farce. . . . 

These retreats, which have not been confined to the 
sailors, have ended by causing great commotion and 
alarm among the non-combatants, and reserve trenches 
and barricades are being improved and manned in grow- 
ing numbers. Still, the distribution is unequal. There 
is a force of nearly sixty rifles in what is the northern 
front of the British Legation the sole front exposed 
to direct attack on this side of the square. With diffi- 
culty can the command be induced to withdraw a single 
man from here. They say it is so close to all those who 
have sought the shelter of the British Legation, so close 
to the women and children and those who are afraid, 
that it would be a crime to weaken this front. And yet 
there has been hardly a casualty among those sixty men 
during four weeks' siege, while elsewhere about one hun- 
dred and twenty have been killed and wounded. . . . 

The fear that fire-balls will be flung far In from here, 
or fire-arrows shot from the adjacent trenches, has made 
them institute patrols, which make a weary round all 



216 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

through the night to see that all's well. In the thick 
darkness these men can act as they please, and already 
there are several sales histoires being sold. One is very 
funny. The patrol in question was composed entirely 
of Russian students, who are not rated as effectives. 
Beginning at nine o'clock the day before yesterday, the 
patrol had got as far as the Japanese women's quarters 
at this northern front of the British Legation, when they 
were halted for a few minutes to communicate some or- 
ders. One of the volunteers, of an amorous disposition, 
noticed a buxom little Japanese servant at work on a 
wash-tub in the gloom. An appointment was made for 
the morrow. . . . 

The next night duly came. Once more the patrol 
halted, and once more the young Russian told his com- 
panions to go on. The patrol moved away, and the ad- 
venturous Russian tiptoed into the Japanese quarters. 
Cautiously feeling his way down a corridor, he opened 
a door, which he thought the right one; then the tragedy 
occurred. Suddenly a quiet voice said to him in French 
out of the gloom : 

"Monsieur desire quelque chose? Je serai charmee de 
donner a Monsieur ce qu'il voudra s'il veut bien rester 
a la porte" The wretched Russian student imagined he 
was lost; it was the wife of a Minister ! He hesitated a 
minute; then, gripping his rifle and with the perfect Rus- 
sian imperturbability coming to his rescue, he replied, 
with a deep bow: "Merci, Madame, merd mille fois! 
Je cherchais seulement de la vaseline pour mon fusil!" 

This phrase has become immortal among the besieged. 



XIV 

THE EVER-GROWING CASUALTY LIST 

1 6th July, 1900. 



And yet one is lucky if one can laugh at all. The 
rifle and cannon fire continues; barricades are pushing 
closer and closer, more of our men are falling it is 
always the same monotonous chronicle. A few days ago 

poor T , the Austrian cruiser captain, who aspired 

to be our commander-in-chief with such disastrous re- 
sults, was killed in the Su wang-fu while he was encour- 
aging his men to stand firm and not repeat some of their 

former performances. To-day little S , the British 

Minister's chief of the staff, has been mortally hit, and 
has just died. It was a sad affair. In the morning a 
party from headquarters was making a tour of inspection 
of the Su wang-fu posts, in order to see exactly how much 
battering they could stand, and how soon the Italian 
contention that already the hillock works were untenable 
would become an undeniable fact. The Italian defences 
had been inspected, and the little party was crossing the 
ornamental gardens, which are always swept by a storm 

of fire, when suddenly S fell mortally wounded, 

M , the correspondent, was badly hit in the leg, the 

Japanese colonel alone escaping with a bullet-cut tunic. 
They had drawn the enemy's fire. Great was the dis- 
may when the news became generally known ; it meant 
that the authority of headquarters had received a cruel 



218 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

blow. There is no officer left who can really perform 
the duties of the chief of the staff, and all the outer lines 
will feel this loosening of a control which has really only 
been complimentary and nominal. Casualties among 
the officers of the other detachments had allowed the 
British marine commanders to increase their influence. 
Now it is finished. The only two good ones have now 
been struck off the list. 

All day long men looked gloomily about them, and felt 
that gradually but surely things were progressing from 
bad to worse. Six of the best officers have either been 
killed or so badly wounded that they cannot possibly 
take the field again; about fifty of our most daring 
regulars and volunteers have been killed outright; the 
number of admittances to the hospital up to date is 
one hundred and ten ; and thus of the four hundred and 
fifty rifles defending our lines, nearly a third have been 
placed out of action in less than four weeks. Excepting 
for a small gap across the Northern Imperial canal 
bridge, a continuous double, or even treble, line of the 
enemy's barricades now stretch unbroken from a point 
opposite the American positions on the Tartar Wall 
round in a vast irregular curve to the city wall overlook- 
ing the German Legation. 

These barricades are becoming more and more power- 
ful, and are being pushed so close to us by a system of 
parallels and traverses that at the Su wang-fu and the 
French lines only a few feet separate some of our own 
defences from the enemy's. Already it had twice hap- 
pened that a fierce and unique deed had taken place at 
the same loophole between one of our men and a Chinese 
brave, ending in the shooting of one or the other, forcing 
a retirement on our part to the next line of barricades. 



THE EVER-GROWING CASUALTY LIST 219 

Thus, by sheer weight of brickwork they are crushing us 
in, and if they have only two weeks' more uninterrupted 

work, it can only end in one way. Colonel S has 

made two more frantic sorties, in both of which I took 
part at daybreak, with a few men, which succeeded each 
time in pushing back the enemy for a few days in one 
particular corner at the cost of casualties we cannot 
afford. But the work and the strain are becoming ex- 
hausting, and even the Japanese, who are being driven 

by little S like mules, are showing the effects in their 

lack-lustre eyes and dragging legs. The men are half 
drunk from lack of sleep and from bad, overheated 
blood, caused by a perpetual peering through loopholes 
and a continual alertness even when they are asleep. 
The strain is intolerable, I say, and pony meat is be- 
coming nauseating, and fills me with disgust. 

On top of it all the trenches are now sometimes half 
full of water, for the summer rains, which have held 
back for so long, are beginning to fall. The stenches 
are so bad from rotting carcases and obscene droppings 
that an already weakened stomach becomes so rebellious 
that it is hard to swallow any food at all. 

In the morning it is sometimes revolting. For four 
days I was at a line of loopholes, with Chinese corpses 
swelling in the sun under my nose. ... At the risk of 
being shot, I covered them partially by throwing hand- 
fuls of mud. Otherwise not I myself, but my rebellious 
stomach, could not have stood it. 

Scorched by the sun by day, unable to sleep except in 
short "snatches at night, with a never-ending rifle and 
cannon fire around us, we have had almost as much as we 
can stand, and no one wants any more. I wonder now 
sometimes why we have been abandoned by our own 



220 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

people. Reliefs and S are only seen In ghastly 

dreams. . . . 

And yet there are others near who must be faring 
worse than we. Far away in the north of the city, where 

are Monseigneur F 's cathedral, his thousands of 

converts, and the forty or fifty men he so ardently de- 
sired, we hear on the quieter days a distant rumble of 
cannon. Sometimes when the wind bears down on us 
we think we can hear a confused sound of rifle-firing, 
far, far away. They say that Jung Lu, the Manchu 
Generalissimo of Peking, whose friendship has been 
assiduously cultivated by the French Bishop, is seeing 
to it that the Chinese attacks are not pushed home, and 
that a waiting policy is adopted similar to that which the 
Chinese have used towards us. But no matter what 
be the actual facts of the case, the besieged fathers must 
be having a terrible time. . . . 

Ponies and mules are also getting scarcer, and the 
original mobs, numbering at least one hundred and fifty 
or two hundred head, have disappeared at the rate of 
two or three a day as meat. Our remaining animals are 
now quartered In a portion of the Su wang-fu, where 
they are feeding on what scant grass and green vegeta- 
tion they can still find in those gloomy gardens. Some- 
times a humming bullet flies low and maims one of the 
poor animals in a vital spot. Then the butcher need 
not use his knife, for meat is precious, and even the sick 
horses that die, and whose bodies are ordered to be 
buried quickly, are not safe from the clutches of our 
half-starving Chinese refugees. . . . 
A few days ago a number of ponies, frightened at some 
sudden roar of battle, broke loose and escaped by jump- 
ing over in a marvellous way some low barricades front- 



THE EVER-GROWING CASUALTY LIST 221 

ing the canal banks. Caught between our own fire and 
that of the enemy, and unable to do anything but gallop 
up and down frantically in a frightened mob, the poor 
animals excited our pity for days without our being able 
to do a single thing towards rescuing them. Gradually 
one by one they were hit, and soon their festering 
carcases, lying swollen in the sun, added a little more to 
the awful stenches which now surround us. Some men 
volunteered to go out and bury them, and cautiously 
creeping out, shovel in hand, just as night fell, once more 
our Peking dust was requisitioned, and a coverlet of 
earth spread over them. 

The droves of ownerless Peking dogs wandering about 
and creeping in and out of every hole and gap are also 
annoying us terribly. These pariahs, abandoned by their 
masters, who have fled from this ruined quarter of the 
city, are ravenous with hunger, and fight over the bodies 
of the Chinese dead, and dig up the half-buried horses; 
nothing will drive them away. In furious bands they 
rush down on us at night, sometimes alarming the out- 
posts so much that they open a heavy fire. An order 
given to shoot every one of them, so as to stop these 
night rushes, has been carried out, but no matter how 
many we kill, more push forward, frantic with hunger, 
and tear their dead comrades to pieces in front of our 
eyes. It is becoming a horrible warfare in this bricked- 
in battleground. 

Inside our lines there are a number of half-starving 
natives, who were caught by the storm and are unable 
to escape. They are poor people of the coolie classes, 
and it is no one's business to care for them. Several 
times parties of them have attempted to sneak out and 
get away, but each time they have been seized with 



222 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

panic, and have fled back, willing to die with starvation 

sooner than be riddled by the enemy's bullets. The 
native troops beyond our lines shoot at everything that 
moves. A few days ago an old ragpicker was seen out- 
side the Tartar Wall shambling along half dazed 
towards the Water-Gate, which runs in under the Great 
Wall into the dry canal in our centre. The Chinese 
sharpshooters saw him and must have thought him a 
messenger. Soon their rifles crashed at him, and the 
old man fell hit, but remained alive. After a while he 
raised himself on his hands and knees and began crawl- 
ing towards his countrymen like a poor, stricken dog, 
in the hope that they would spare him when they saw his 
condition. But pitilessly once more the rifles crashed 
out, and this time their bullets found a billet in his vital 
parts, for the beggar rolled over and remained motion- 
less. There he now lies where he was shot down in the 
dust and dirt, and his white beard and his rotting rags 
seem to raise a silent and eloquent protest to high 
Heaven against the devilish complots which are racking , 
Peking. 

The feeding of our native Christians, an army of 
nearly two thousand, is still progressing, but babies are 
dying rapidly, and nothing further can be done. 

There is only just so much rice, and the men who are 
doing the heavy coolie work on the fortifications must 
be fed better than the rest or else no food at all would 
be needed. . . . 

The native children, with hunger gnawing savagely at 
their stomachs, wander about stripping the trees of their 
leaves until half Prince Su's grounds Have leafless 
branches. Some of the mothers have taken all the 
clothes off their children on account of the heat, and 



THE EVER-GROWING CASUALTY LIST 223 

their terrible water-swollen stomachs and the pitiful 
sticks of legs eloquently tell their own tale. Unable to 
find food, all are drinking enormous quantities of water 
to stave off the pangs of hunger. A man who has been 
in India says that all drink like this in famine time, which 
inflates the stomach to a dangerous extent, and is the 
forerunner of certain death. 

To the babies we give all the scraps of food we can 
gather up after our own rough food is eaten, and to see 
the little disappointed faces when there is nothing is 
sadder than to watch the wounded being carried in. If 
we ever get out we have some heavy scores to settle, 
and some of our rifles will speak very bitterly. 

Thus enclosed in our brick-bound lines, each of us is 
spinning out his fate. The Europeans still have as 
much food as they need; the Chinese are half starving; 
shot and shell continue; stinks abound; rotting carcases 
lie festering in the sun; our command is looser than 
ever. It is the merest luck we are still holding out. 
Perhaps to-morrow it will be oven In any case, the 
glory has long since departed, and we have nothing but 
brutal realities. 



XV 
THE ARMISTICE 

1 7th July, 1900. 



The impossible has happened at the eleventh hour. 
Around us those hoarse-throated trumpets have been 
ringing out stentoriously all day. How blood-curdling 
they sounded! Calling fiercely and insistently to one 
another, this barbaric cease-fire of brass trumpets has 
grown to such a blood-curdling roar that attention had 
to be paid, and gradually but surely the rifles have been 
all stilled until complete and absolute silence surrounds 
us. At last diplomacy in the far-away outer world has 
made itself heard, and we who are placed in the very 
centre of this Middle Kingdom of China, being parleyed 
with by the responsible Chinese Government, It has 
been a long and heart-breaking wait, but it is always 
better late than never. 

This is exactly what has happened, although I have 
only just learned the full details. On the I4th that 
is, three days ago a native messenger, bearing our 
tidings, was sent out in fear and trembling, induced to 
attempt to reach Tientsin by lavish promises, and by the 
urgency of missionary entreaties. But instead of even 
getting out of the city, the messenger was captured, 
beaten, and detained for several days at the headquarters 
of the Manchu commander-in-chief, Jung Lu, in the 
Imperial city. Then, finally, when he thought that he 



THE ARMISTICE 225 

was being led out to be put to death, he was brought 
back to our barricades, presenting a very sorrowful 
appearance, but bearing a fateful despatch from Prince 
Ching and all the members of the Tsung-li Yarnen. 
This despatch had nothing very sensational in it, but 
it marked the beginning. It merely stated that soldiers 
and bandits had been fighting during the last few days; 
that the accuracy and vigour of our fire had created 
alarm and suspicion ; and that, in consequence, our Min- 
isters and their staffs were invited to repair at once to 
the Tsung-li Yamen, where they would be properly cared 
for. As for the rest of the thousand living and dead 
Europeans and the two thousand native Christians within 
our lines, they were not even dignified by being men- 
tioned. Most people inferred from this that by some 
means even the extremists of the Chinese Government 
had realised that if all the foreign Ministers were killed, 
it would be necessary for Europe to sacrifice some mem- 
bers of the Imperial family. 

But the despatch, although its terms were trivial and 
even childish, had a vast importance for us. It showed 
that something had happened somewhere in the vague 
world beyond Peking perhaps that armies were arriv- 
ing. We were reminded that we were still alive. A 
dignified reply was sent, and the very next day came an 
astonishing Washington cipher message, which has been 
puzzling us ever since. It was only three words : "Com- 
municate to bearer." No one can explain what these 
words mean ; even the American Minister has cudgelled 
his brains in vain, and asked everybody's opinion. But 
about one thing there is no doubt that it comes straight 
from Washington untampered with, for these three 
words are in a secret cipher, which only half a dozen of 



226 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

the highest American officials in Washington under- 
stand, and in Peking there is no one excepting the Min- 
ister himself who has the key. 

This is absolutely the first authentic sign we have had. 
If the reply message ever gets through, public opinion 
may force our rescue. . . . 

Finding that they could trust us, our own messenger 
has been followed by Chinese Government messengers, 
who, tremblingly waving white flags, march up to our 
barricades, hand in their messages, and crouch down, 
waiting to be given a safe-conduct back. 

There have been several such - messages delivered at 
one point along our long front while the rifle duel was 
continuing elsewhere with the same monotony. Now 
those trumpets, gaining confidence, have brought abso- 
lute silence. 

At first there was only this absolute silence. It seemed 
so odd and curious after weeks of rifle-fire and booming 
of old-fashioned cannon, that that alone was like a holi- 
day. Then, as every one seemed to realise that it was a 
truce, men began standing up on their barricades and 
waving white cloths to one another. 

Both sides did this for some time, and as no one fired, a 
mutual inquisitiveness prompted men to climb over their 
entrenched positions and walk out boldly into the open. 
Still the same friendliness. 

By mid-day friendliness and confidence Had reached 
such a point, that half our men were over the barricades, 
and had met the Chinese soldiery on the neutral zone of 
ruins and rubbish extending between our lines. All of 
us left our rifles behind, and stowed revolvers into our 
shirts lest treachery suddenly surprised us and found us 
defenceless. I placed an army revolver in my trousers 



THE ARMISTICE 227 

pocket, with a vague idea that I would attempt the 
prairie trick of shooting through my clothing if there 
was any need to resort to force. I soon found that this 
was unnecessary. 

Boldly walking forward, we pushed right up to the 
Chinese barricades. Nothing surprised us so much as 
to see the great access of strength to the Chinese posi- 
tions since the early days of the siege. Not only were we 
now securely hedged in by frontal trenches and barn- 
cades, but flanking such Chinese positions were great 
numbers of parallel defences, designed solely with the 
object of battering our sortie parties to pieces should we 
attempt to take the offensive again. Lining these barri- 
cades and improvised forts were hundreds of men, all 
with their faces bronzed by the sun, and with their heads 
encased in black cloth fighting caps. Relieving the 
sombre aspect of this headgear were numbers of 
brightly coloured tunics, betokening the various corps to 
which this soldiery belonged. What a wonderful sight 
they made ! There were Tung Fu-hsiang's artillerymen, 
with violet embroidered coats and blue trousers; dis- 
mounted cavalry detachments belonging to the same 
commander in red and black tunics and red "tiger 
skirts"; Jung Lu's Peking Field Force; Manchu Ban- 
nermen; provincial levies and many others. All these 
men, standing up on the top of their fortifications, made 
a most brilliant picture, and we looked long and eagerly. 
I wish some painter of genius could have been there and 
caught that message. For there were skulls and bones 
littering the ground, and representing all that remained 
of the dead enemy after the pariah dogs had fin- 
ished with them. Broken rifles and thousands of empty 
brass cartridge cases added to the battered look of this 



228 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

fiercely contested area, and down the streets the remains 
of every native house had been heaped together in rude 
imitation of a fort, with jagged loopholes placed at in- 
tervals of eight or ten inches, allowing any number of 
rifles to be brought into play against us under secure 
cover. The men who had manned these defences had 
left their rifles where they were, and by peering over we 
could see that the majority of these firepieces were tied 
into position by means of wooden forks so as to bear 
a converging fire on the exposed points of our defences. 
Only then did I realise how much a protracted resistance 
places an attacking force on the defensive. We were 
afraid of one another. Sauntering about, some of tEe 
enemy were willing to enter into conversation. A num- 
ber of things they told filled us with surprise, and made 
us begin to understand the complexity of the situation 
around us. The Shansi levies and Tung Fu-hsiang's 
men that is, all the soldiery from the provinces had 
but little idea of why they were attacking us ; they had 
been sent, they said, to prevent us from breaking into the 
Palace and killing their Emperor. 

If the foreigners had not brought so many foreign 
soldiers into Peking, there would have been no fight- 
ing. They did not want to fight. . . . They did not 
want to be killed. . . . 

Somebody tried to explain to them that the Boxers had 
brought it all on. But to this they answered that the 
Boxers were finished, driven away, discredited; there 
were none left in Peking, and why did we not send our 
own soldiers away, who had been killing so many of 
them. Such things they repeated time without number; 
It was their only point of view. 

The morning passed away in this wise, but there were 



THE ARMISTICE 229 

several contretemps which nearly led to the spilling of 
blood. In one case, an English marine tried to take a 
watermelon from a soldier, who was very anxious to 
sell it; but as the latter would not give it up without 
immediate payment, the marine thumped his head and 
then knocked him over. Every one rushed for their 
rifles, but some of us shouted for silence, and going over 
to the marine, whispered to him to keep quiet while we 
tied up his hands. We told him to march back into our 
lines, and informed our audience that he would be 
beaten, and that the man who had been knocked over 
would get a dollar. We managed by this crude acting 
to save an open rupture, but it was plain that the rank 
and file must not be allowed to mix. We managed 
eventually to restore a semblance of good-fellowship by 
purchasing at very heavy prices a great number of eggs. 
The women, the children, and the wounded have been 
long in want of eggs and fresh food, and we knew 
that these would do a great many people good. 

Late in the afternoon, as a result of this extraordinary 
fraternising, a very singular thing occurred along the 
French front, where the bitter fighting has rebounded 
into a hot friendship. A French volunteer, who is as 
dare-devil as many of his friends, suddenly climbed over 
the Chinese barricades and shouted back that he was 
going away on a visit. They tried to make him return, 
but in spite of a little hesitation, he went on climbing and 
getting farther and farther away. Then he suddenly 
disappeared for good. Nobody expected to see him 
alive again, and everybody put It down to a manifesta- 
tion of the incipient madness which is affecting a num- 
ber of men. . . . 

But two hours afterwards a letter came from the 



230 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

French volunteer. It merely said that he was in Jung 
Lu's camp, having an excellent time. Very late in the 
evening he came back himself. In spite of the fool- 
hardiness of the whole thing his news was the most val- 
uable we had received. 

It shows us plainly that not only has something hap- 
pened elsewhere, but that the Boxer plan is miscarrying 
in Peking itself. 

The young Frenchman had been really well treated, fed 
with Chinese cakes and fruit, and given excellent tea to 
drink. Then he had been led direct to Jung Lu's head- 
quarters, and closely questioned by the generalissimo 
himself as to our condition, our provisions, and the 
number of men we had lost. He had replied, he said, 
that we were having a charming time, and that we only 
needed some ice and some fruit to make us perfectly 
happy, even in the great summer heat. Thereupon Jung 
Lu had filled his pockets with peaches and ordered his 
servants to tie up watermelons in a piece of cloth for him 
to carry back. Jung Lu finally bade him good-bye, with 
the significant words that his own personal troops on 
whom he could rely would attempt to protect the Lega- 
tions, but added that it was very difficult to do so as 
every one was fearful for their own heads, and dare not 
show too much concern for the foreigner. This makes 
it absolutely plain that this extraordinary armistice is 
the result of a whole series of events which we cannot 
even imagine. It is like that curious affair of the Board 
of Truce, but much more definite. It means . . . what 

the devil does it mean? After S 's mysterious 

disappearance, when he was only a day's march from 
Peking a month ago it is useless to attempt any specu- 
lations. How long will this last ? ... In the evening, 



THE ARMISTICE 231 

when we had exhausted the discussion of every possible 
theory, somebody remarked on the silence. I will al- 
ways remember how, for some inexplicable reason, that 
remark annoyed me immensely made me nervous and 
angry. Perhaps it was that after weeks of rifle-fire and 
cannon booming, the colourless monotone of complete 
silence was nerve-destroying. Yes, it must have been 
that; a perpetual, aggravating, insolent silence is worse 
than noise. . . . But this will mean nothing to you ; ex- 
perience alone teaches. 



XVI 

THE RESUMPTION OF A SEMI-DIPLOMATIC LIFE 

2Oth July, 1900. 



The third phase continues unabated, with nothing even 
to enliven it. Despatches in Chinese from nowhere in 
particular continue to drop in from the Tsung-li Yamen; 
pen had been put to paper, and the despatches have been 
duly answered, leaving the position unchanged. I have 
been even requisitioned, rebelliously, I will confess, to 
turn my hand to despatch writing; but my fingers, so 
long accustomed only to rifle-bolts and triggers, and a 
clumsy wielding of entrenching tools, produce such a 
hideous caligraphic result, that I have been coldly ex- 
cused from further attempts. It is incredible that one 
should so easily forget how to write properly, but it is 
nevertheless true eight weeks in the trenches will break 
the best hand in the world. An ordinary man would 
think that what I write now is in a secret cipher ! 

But of diplomatic life. All these despatches which 
come in are in the same monotonous tone ; they are en- 
treaties and appeals to evacuate the Legations and place 
ourselves under the benevolent care of the Tsung-li 
Yamen, to come speedily before it is too late. Of 
course, not even our Ministers will go. 

But there is more news, although it is not quite cheer- 
ing or definite. On the i8th the Japanese received a 
message direct from Tientsin, giving information to the 



RESUMPTION OF SEMI-DIPLOMATIC LIFE 233 

effect that thirty thousand troops were assembling there 
for a general advance on Peking. They say that ten 
days or a fortnight may see us relieved, but somehow 
the Japanese are not very hopeful. 

On this same date came a secretary from the Tsung-li 
Yamen in person, accompanied by a trembling t'ingotiai, 
or card-bearer, frantically waving the white flag of 
truce. They must been very frightened, for never 
have I seen such convulsiveness. The secretary, walk- 
ing quickly with spasmodic steps, held tight to the 
arm of his official servant, and made him wave, wave, 
wave that white flag of truce until it became pitiful. 

Thus preceded, the Tsung-li Yamen secretary advanced 
to the main-gate blockhouse of the British Legation, 
where he was curtly stopped, given a chair, and told to 
await the arrival of the Ministers, or such as proposed 
to see him. Seated just outside this evil-smelling dun- 
geon for the blockhouse, encased in huge sand-bags, 
is full of dirt and ruins and has many smells the feel- 
ings of this representative of the Chinese Government 
must have been charmingly mixed. Near by were grimy 
and work-worn men, in all manner of attire, with their 
rifles; in the dry canal alongside were rude structures 
of brick and overturned Peking carts, line upon line, 
thrown down and heaped up to block the enemy's long- 
expected charges ; and on all sides were such stenches and 
refuse all the flotsam and jetsam cast up by our sea of 
troubles. Until then I did not realise how many car- 
cases, fragments of broken weapons, empty cartridge 
cases, broken bottles, torn clothing, and a hundred other 
things were lying about. It was a sordid picture. 
Presently the British Minister, in his capacity of com- 
mander-in-chief and protector of the other Ministers, 



234 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

came out and took his seat by the side of his guest, an 
interpreter standing beside him to help the interview. 
Then the French Minister approached and insinuated 
himself into the droll council of peace; the Spanish Min- 
ister, as doyen, also appeared, and one or two others. 
But those Ministers who are without Legations, who so 
uncomfortably resemble their colleagues at home 
those without portfolios formed a group in the middle 
distance, humble as men only are who have to rely upon 
bounty. I saw the Belgian Minister and tHe Italian 
Charge for the first time for several weeks. My own 
chief was also there, rubbing his hands, trying to seem 
natural. The interview proceeded apace, and as far 
as we could judge there were no noticeable results. 
There were assurances on both sides, regrets, the croco- 
dile tears of diplomacy, and vague threats. All our 
Ministers seemed comforted to feel that diplomacy still 
existed that there was still a world in which protocols 
were binding. And yet nothing definite could be learned 
from this Yamen secretary. He said that every one 
would be protected, but that the "bandits" were still 
very strong. After this official interview, other private 
interviews took place. Buglers and orderlies from the 
Chinese generals around us trooped in on us for un- 
known reasons. Three came over the German barri- 
cades, and were led blindfolded to the British Legation 
to be cross-questioned and examined. One trumpeter 
said that his general wished for an interview with one 
of our generals at the great Ha-ta Gate, where were his 
headquarters. He wished to discuss military matters. 
Other men came in a big deputation to the little Japanese 
colonel, and said they wanted an interview too. It 
means the temporary resumption of a species of diplo- 



RESUMPTION OF SEMI-DIPLOMATIC LIFE 235 

matic life. I suppose it is in the air, and everybody likes 
the change. Yesterday, too, came another despatch 
from Prince Ching and others as these letters are now 
always curiously signed, the lesser men hiding their 
identity in this way asking the Ministers once more to 
do something impossible; and once more a despatch has 
gone back, saying that we are perfectly happy to remain 
where we are, only we would like some vegetables and 
fruit. . . . And so, to-day, four cartloads of melons 
and cabbages have actually come with the Empress 
Dowager's own compliments. The melons looked beau- 
tifully red and ripe, and the cabbages of perfect green 
after this drab-coloured life. But many people would 
not eat of this Imperial gift; they feared being poisoned. 
More despatches from Europe have also been trans- 
mitted notably a cipher one to the French Minister, 
saying that fifteen thousand Frpnch troops have left 
France. Evidently a change has taken place some- 
where. 

But while these pourparlers are proceeding, some of us 
are not at all quieted. Fortification of the inner lines is 
going on harder than ever. The entire British Lega- 
tion has now walls of immense strength, with miniature 
blockhouses at regular intervals, and a system of 
trenches. If our advanced posts have to fall back they 
may be able to hold this Legation for a few days in spite 
of the artillery fire. French digging, in the form of very 
narrow and very deep cuts designed to stop the enemy's 
possible mining, is being planned and carried out every- 
where, and soon the general asylum will be even more 
secure than it has been since the beginning. Un- 
doubtedly we are just marking time stamping audibly 
with our diplomatic feet to reassure ourselves, and to 



236 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

show that we are still alive. For in spite of all this ap- 
parent friendliness, which was heralded with such an 
outburst of shaking hands and smiling faces, there have 
already been a number of little acts of treachery along 
the lines, showing that the old spirit lurks underneath 
just as strong. 

In the Northern Hanlin posts which skirt the British 
Legation, a black-faced Bannerman held up a green 
melon in one hand, and signalled with the other to one 
of our men to advance and receive this gift. Our man 
dropped his rifle, and was sliding a leg over his barri- 
cade, when with a swish a bullet went through the folds 
of his shirt the nearest shave he had ever had. The 
volunteer dropped back to his side, and then, after a 
while, waved an empty tin in his hand as a notice that 
he desired a resumption of friendly relations. The Chi- 
nese brave cautiously put his head up, and once again, 
with a crack, the compliment was returned, and the 
soldier was slightly wounded, and now we only peer 
through our loopholes and are careful of our heads. 
The novelty of the armistice is wearing off, and we feel 
that we are only gaining time. 

Still, we are improving our position. There is a more 
friendly feeling among the commands in our lines, and 
the various contingents are being redistributed. By 
bribing the Yamen messenger, copies of the Peking 
Gazette have been obtained, and from these it is evident 
that something has happened. For all the decreeing 
and counter-decreeing of the early Boxer days have be- 
gun again, and the all-powerful Boxers with their 
boasted powers are being rudely treated. It is evident 
that they are no longer believed in; that the situation in 
and around Peking is changing from day to day. THe 



RESUMPTION OF SEMI-DIPLOMATIC LIFE 237 

Boxers, having shown themselves incompetent, are reap- 
ing the whirlwind. They must soon entirely disappear. 

It is even two weeks since the last one was shot outside 
the Japanese lines at night, and now there is nothing 
but regular soldiery encamped around us. This last 
Boxer was a mere boy of fifteen, who had stripped stark 
naked and smeared himself all over with oil after the 
manner of Chinese thieves, so that if he came into our 
clutches no hands would be able to hold him tight The 
most daring ones have always been boys. He had crept 
fearlessly right up to the Japanese posts armed only with 
matches and a stone bottle of kerosene, with which he 
purposed to set buildings on fire and thus destroy a link 
in our defences. This is always the Boxer policy. But 
the Japanese, as usual, were on the alert. They let the 
youthful Boxer approach to within a few feet of their 
rifles a thin shadow of a boy faintly stirring in the 
thick gloom. Then flames of fire spurted out, and a 
thud told the sentries that their bullets had gone home. 

When morning came we went out and inspected the 
corpse, and marvelled at the terrible muzzle velocity of 
the modern rifle. One bullet had gone through the 
chest, and tiny pin-heads of blood near the breast-bone 
and between the shoulders was all the trace that had been 
left. But the second pencil of nickel-plated lead had 
struck the fanatic on the forearm, and instead of boring 
through, had knocked out a clean wedge of flesh, half 
an inch thick and three inches deep, just as you would 
chip out a piece of wood from a plank. There was 
nothing unseemly in it all, death had come so sud- 
denly. The blows had been so tremendous, and death 
so instantaneous, that there had been no bleeding. 

It was extraordinary. 



2/S INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Meanwhile, from the Pei-t'ang we can still plainly hear 
a distant cannonade sullenly booming in the hot air. 
We have breathing space, but they, poor devils, are still 
being thundered at. Xo one can understand how they 
have held out so long. 

Our losses, now that w T e have time to go round and 
find out accurately, seem appalling. The French have 
lost forty-two killed and wounded out of a force of 
fifty sailors and sixteen volunteers ; the Japanese, forty- 
five out of a band of sixty sailors and Japanese and mis- 
cellaneous volunteers ; the Germans have thirty killed and 
wounded out of fifty-four; and in all there have been 
one hundred and seventy casualties of all classes. Many 
of the slightly wounded have returned already to their 
posts, but these men have nothing like the spirit they 
had before they were shot. 

The shell holes and number of shells fired are also 
being counted up. The little Hotel de Pekin, standing 
high up just behind the French lines, has been the most 
struck. It is simply torn to pieces and has hundreds of 
holes in it. Altogether some three thousand shells have 
been thrown at us and found a lodgment. The wreck- 
age round the outer fringe is appalling, and in this pres- 
ent calm scarcely believable. Another three thousand 
shells will bring everything flat to the ground. 



XVII 

DIPLOMACY CONTINUES 

24th July, 1900. 



The situation is practically unchanged., and there is 
devilish little to write about. During the last two or 
three days no Chinese soldiers have been coming in to 
parley with us, except in one or two isolated instances. 
Cautious reconnaissances of two or three men creeping 
out at a time, pushing out as far as possible, have dis- 
covered that the enemy is nothing like as numerous as 
he was at the beginning of this armistice. 

Some of his barricades seem even abandoned, and 
stand lonely and quite silent without any of the gaudily 
clothed soldiery to enliven them by occasionally standing 
up and waving us their doubtful greetings. But, curious 
contradiction, although some barricades have been prac- 
tically abandoned, others are being erected very cau- 
tiously, very quietly, and without any ostentation, as if the 
enemy were preparing for eventualities which he knows 
must inevitably occur. Sometimes, too, there is even a 
little crackle of musketry in some remote corner, which 
remains quite unexplained. A secret traffic in eggs and 
ammunition is still going on with renegade soldiery from 
Tung Fu-hsiang's camp ; but no longer can these things 
be purchased openly, for a Chinese commander has be- 
headed several men for this treachery, and threatens 
to resume fighting if his soldiers are tampered with. 



jio IXDISC r:r.ET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

But there is another piece of curious news. A spy has 
come in and offered to report the movements of the 
European army of relief, which he alleges has already 
left Tientsin and is pushing back dense bodies of 
Chinese troops. This offer has been accepted, and the 
man has been given a sackful of dollars from Prince 
Su's treasure-rooms. He is to report every day, and 
to be paid as richly as he cares if he gives us the truth. 
Some people say he can only be a liar, who will trim 
his sails to whatever breezes he meets. But the Japanese, 
who have arranged with him, are not so sceptical; they 
think that something of importance may be learned. 

Down near the Water-Gate, which runs under the 
Tartar Wall, the miserable natives imprisoned by our 
warfare are in a terrible state of starvation. Their 
bones are cracking through their skin; their eyes have 
an insane look; yet nothing is being done for them. 
They are afraid to attempt escape even in this quiet, 
as the Water-Gate is watched on the outside night and 
day by Chinese sharpshooters. It is the last gap leading 
to the outer world which is still left open. Tortured by 
the sight of these starving wretches, who moan and 
mutter night and day, the posts near by shoot down 
dogs and crows and drag them there. They say every- 
thing is devoured raw with cannibal-like cries. . . . 

The position is therefore unchanged. We have had a 
week's quiet, and some letters from the Tsung-li Yamen, 
which assures us of their distinguished consideration, yet 
we are just as isolated and as uneasy as we were before. 
This solitude is becoming killing. 



XVIII 

THE UNREST GROWS AND DIPLOMACY CONTINUES 

27th July, 1900. 



It is not so peaceful as It was. Trumpet calls have 
been blaring outside; troops have been seen moving 
in big bodies with great banners in their van; the Im- 
perial world of Peking is in great tumult; the soldier-spy 
alleges new storms must be brewing. 

In spite of this, however, the Tsung-li Yamen messen- 
gers now come and go with a certain regularity. This 
curious diplomatic correspondence must be piling up. 
Even the messengers, who at first suffered such agonies 
of doubt as they approached our lines, frantically wav- 
ing their flags of truce and fearing our rifles, are now 
quite accustomed to their work, and are becoming com- 
municative in a cautious, curious Chinese way which 
hints at rather than boldly states. They tell us that our 
barricades can only be approached with some sense of 
safety from the eastern side that is, the Franco- 
German quarter; in other quarters they may be fired 
on and killed by their own people. The Peking troops, 
who can be still controlled by Prince Ching and the 
Tsung-li Yamen, are on the eastern side of the enclosing 
squares of barricades; elsewhere there are field forces 
from other provinces men who cannot be trusted, and 
who would massacre the messengers as soon as they 
would us, although they are clad in official dress and rep- 



212 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

resent the highest authority in the Empire. This posi- 
tion is very strange. 

But more ominous than all the trumpet calls and the 
large movements of troops which have been spied from 
the top of the lofty Tartar Wall, are the tappings and 
curious little noises underground. Everywhere these 
little noises are being heard, always along the outskirts 
of our defence. It must be that the mining of the 
French Legation is looked upon as so successful, that 
the Chinese feel that could they but reach every point of 
our outworks with black powder placed in narrow sub- 
terranean passages, they would speedily blow us into an 
ever narrower ring, until there was only that left of us 
which could be calmly destroyed by shells. We now oc- 
cupy such an extended area, and are so well entrencEed, 
that shelling, although nerve-wracking, has lost almost 
all its power and terror. Were Chinese commanders 
united in their purpose and their men faithful to them, 
a few determined rushes would pierce our loose forma- 
tion. As it is, it is our salvation. In the quiet of the 
night all the outposts hear this curious tapping. It is 
heard along the French lines, along the German lines, 
along the Japanese lines, and all round the north of the 
British Legation. Were we to remain quiescent the 
armistice might be suddenly broken some day by all our 
fighting men being hoisted into the air. Our counter- 
action has, however, already commenced. 

For while the enemy is pushing his lines cunningly and 
rapidly under our walls and outworks, we are running 
out counter-mines under his at least, we are attempting 
this by plunging a great depth into the earth, and only 
beginning to drive horizontally many feet below the 
surface line. Hundreds of men are on this work, but 



UNREST GROWS DIPLOMACY CONTINUES 243 

the Peking soil is not generous; it is, indeed, a cursed 
soil. On top there are thick layers of dust that 
terrible Peking dust which is so rapidly converted into 
such clinging slush by a few minutes' rain. Then imme- 
diately below, for eight feet or so, there is a curious soil 
full of stones and debris, which must mean something 
geologically, but w r hich no one can explain. Finally, at 
about a fathom and a half there is a sea of despond the 
real and solid substratum, thick, tightly bound clay, 
which has to be pared off in thin slices just as you would 
do with very old cheese. This is work which breaks 
your hands and your back. Somebody must do it, how- 
ever; the same men who do everything help this along 
as well. . . . 

With all this mining going on many curious finds are 
being made, which give something to talk about. In 
one place, ten feet below the surface, hundreds and hun- 
dreds of ancient stone cannon-balls have been found, 
which must go back very many centuries. Some say they 
are six hundred years and more old, because the Mongol 
conqueror, Kublai Khan, who built the Tartar City of 
Peking, lived in the thirteenth century, and these cannon- 
balls lie beneath where tilled fields must then have been. 
Are they traces of a forgotten siege? In other places 
splendid drains have been bared drains four feet high 
and three broad, which run everywhere. Once, when 
Marco Polo was young, Peking must have been a fit and 
proper place, and the magnificent streets magnificently 
clean. Now . . . I 

To-day the soldier-spy has brought in news that the 
Court is preparing to flee, because of the approach of 
our avenging armies, and that the moving troops and 
the hundreds of carts which can be seen picking 



214 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

their way through the burned and ruined Ch'ien Men 
great street in the Chinese city will all be engaged in 
this flight. Our troops are advancing steadily, he says, 
driving everything before them. Still no one believes 
these stories very much. We have had six weeks of it 
now, and several distinct phases. Somehow it seems im- 
possible that the whole tragedy should end in this un- 
finished way that thousands of European troops 
should march in unmolested and find us as we are. . . . 
There is practically no day duty now and very easy work 
at night. One can have a good sleep now, but even this 
seems strange and out of place* 



XIX 
THE FIRST REAL NEWS 

28th July, 1900. 



Something has again happened, something of the 
highest importance. A courier from Tientsin has ar- 
rived at last a courier who slipped into our lines, de- 
livered his quill of a message which had been rolled up 
and plaited into his hair for many days, and is now sit- 
ting and fanning himself a thin slip of a native boy, 
who has travelled all the way down that long Tientsin 
road and all the way back again for a very small earthly 
reward. A curious figure this messenger bringing news 
from the outside world made as he sat calmly fanning 
himself with the stoicism of his race. Nobody hurried 
him or questioned him much after he had delivered his 
paper; he was left to rest himself, and when Ee was cool 
he began to speak. I wish you could have heard him ; it 
seemed to me at once a message and a sermon a ser- 
mon for those who are so afraid. The little pictures this 
boy dropped out in jerks showed us that there were 
worse terrors than being sealed in by brickwork. He 
had been twenty-four days travelling up and down the 
eighty miles of the Tientsin road, and four times he had 
been caught, beaten, and threatened with death. Every- 
where there were marauding bands of Boxers; every 
village was hung with red cloth and pasted with Boxer 
legends; and each time he had been captured he had 



24-6 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

been cruelly beaten, because he had no excuse. Once he 
was tied up and made to work for days at a village inn. 
Then he escaped at night, and went on quickly, travel- 
ling by night across the fields. Somehow, by stealing 
food, he finally reached Tientsin. The native city was 
full of Chinese troops and armed Boxers; beyond were 
the Europeans. There was nothing but fighting and dis- 
order and a firing of big guns. By moving slowly he 
had broken into the country again, and gained an out- 
post of European troops, who captured him and took 
him into the camps. Then he had delivered his message, 
and received the one he had brought back. That is all ; 
it had taken twenty-four days. This he repeated many 
times, for everybody came and wished to hear. It was 
plain that many felt secretly ashamed, and wished that 
there would be time to redeem their reputations. There 
would be that ! 

For about then some one came out from headquarters 
and posted the translation of that quill of a cipher mes- 
sage, and a dense crowd gathered to see when the relief 
would march in. March in! The message from an 
English Consul ran: 

"Your letter of the 4th July received. Twenty-four 
thousand troops landed and 19,000 at Tientsin. General 
Gaselee expected at Taku to-morrow; Russians at Pei- 
tsang. Tientsin city under foreign government. Boxer 
power exploded here. Plenty of troops on the way if 
you can keep yourselves in food. Almost all the ladies 
have left Tientsin." 

I suppose it was cruel to laugh, but laugh I did with a 
few others. Never has a man been so abused as was that 



THE FIRST REAL NEWS 247 

luckless English Consul who penned such a fatuous mes- 
sage. The spy had already marched our troops half 
way and more; even the pessimistic allowed that they 
must have started; an authentic message showed clearly 
that it was folly and imagination. We would have to 
have weeks more of it, perhaps even a whole month. 
The people wept and stormed, and soon lost all en- 
thusiasm for the poor messenger boy who had been so 
brave. 

Two hours afterwards I found him still fanning him- 
self and cooling himself. He was quite alone; most 
people had rather he had never come. Yet the message 
has been heeded. The significant phrase is that we must 
keep ourselves in food. Ponies are running short; there 
is only sufficient grain for three weeks' rations; so if 
there is another month, it will be a fair chance that a 
great many die for lack of food. Lists are therefore 
being made of everything eatable there is, and all pri- 
vate supplies are to be commandeered in a few days. 
People are, of course, making false lists and hiding away 
a few things. If there is another month of it there will 
be some very unpleasant scenes yes, some very un- 
pleasant scenes. 



XX 

THE THIRD PHASE CONTINUES 

3Oth July, 1900. 



From the north that dull booming of guns ever con- 
tinues. The Pei-t'ang is still closely besieged, and no 

news comes as to how long Monseigneur F , with 

his few sailors and his many converts, can hold out, or 
why they are exempted from this strange armistice, 
which protects us temporarily. Nothing can be learned 
about them. 

And yet our own armistice, in spite of Tsung-li Yamen 
despatches and the mutual diplomatic assurances, can- 
not continue for ever. Barricade building and mining 
prove that. To-day the last openings have been closed 
in on us for some curious reason, and the stretch of street 
which runs along under the pink Palace walls and across 
the Northern canal bridge has been securely fortified 
with a very powerful barricade. Outside the Water- 
Gate the Chinese sharpshooters have dug also a 
trench. . . . 

This last barricade was not built without some attempt 
on our part to stop such a menacing step, for we tried 
with all our might, by directing a heavy rifle-fire, and 
at last dragging the Italian gun and a machine-gun into 
position, to make the barricade-builders' task impossi- 
ble. But it was all in vain, and now we are neatly en- 
cased in a vast circle of bricks and timber ; we are abso- 



THE THIRD PHASE CONTINUES 

lutely enclosed and shut in, and we can never break 
through. 

Of course this has been a violation of the armistice, for 
it was mutually agreed that neither side should continue 
offensive fortification work, or push closer, and that 
violation would entail a reopening of rifle and gun fire. 
We reopened our fire for a short interval, but little good 
that did us. We lost two men in the operation, for an 
Italian gunner was shot through the hand and made use- 
less for weeks, and a volunteer was pinked in both 
shoulders, and may have to lose one arm. After that 
we stopped firing, for those bleeding men showed us 
how soon our defence would have melted away had we 
not even this questionable armistice. 

Very soon there was a partial explanation of why this 
immense barricade had been built. Late in the after- 
noon Chinese troops began to stream past at a trot under 
cover of the structure. First there were only infantry- 
men, whose rifles and banners could just be seen from 
some of our lookout posts on the highest roofs. But 
presently came artillery and cavalry. Everybody could 
see those, although the men bent low. Unendingly they 
streamed past, until the alarm became general. Even 
in Peking, quite close to us, there were thousands of 
soldiery. When the others were driven in off the Tient- 
sin road it would be our doom. 

From the top of the Tartar Wall came the same 
reports. Our outposts saw nothing but moving troops 
picking their way through the ruins of the Ch'ien Men 
great street troops moving both in and out, and accom- 
panied by long tails of carts bearing their impedimenta. 
Yet It was Impossible to trace the movements of the 
corps streaming past under cover of the newly built bar- 



250 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

ricade. The flitting glimpses we got of them as they 
sr/armed past were not sufficient to allow any identifi- 
cation. Perhaps they were passing out of the city; per- 
haps they were being massed in the Palace; per- 
haps. - . . Anything was possible, and, as one thought, 
imperceptibly the atmosphere seemed to become more 
stifled, as if a storm was about to break on us, and we 
knew our feebleness. Yet we are strong as we can ever 
be. The fortification work has gone on without a break. 
It has become unending. . . 



XXI 

MORE DIPLOMACY 

3 1st July, 1900. 



More despatches have been sent by our diplomats 
to the Tsung-li Yamen, complaining about all the omi- 
nous signs we see around us, and asking for explanations. 
Explanations they are so easy to give! Every ques- 
tion has been promptly answered, even though the 
Yamen itself is probably only just managing to keep its 
head above the muddy waters of revolution which surge 
around. Listen to the replies. The sound of heavy 
guns we hear in the north of the city are due to the gov- 
ernment's orders to exterminate the Boxers and rebels, 
who have been attacking the Pei-t'ang Cathedral and 
harassing the converts. The great barricade across the 
Northern canal bridge was built solely to protect the 
Chinese soldiery from the accuracy of our fire, which is 
greatly feared. As for the mining, our ears must have 
played us false. None is going on. 

Such was the gist of the answers which have been 
promptly sent in. These answers and this cor- 
respondence give our diplomats satisfaction, I suppose, 
but most people think that they are making themselves 
more undignified than they have been ever since this 
storm broke on us. The Yamen can in any case do 
nothing; it is merely a consultative or deliberative body 
of no importance. Probably exactly the same type of 



252 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

despatches are being sent to the commanders of the re- 
lieving columns at Tientsin. 

There being so little for the rank and file to do or talk 
about at the present moment, there is endless gossip and 
scandal going on. The subject of eggs is one of the 
most burning ones ! Great numbers of eggs are being 
obtained by the payment of heavy sums to some of the 
more friendly soldiery around us, who steal in with bas- 
kets and sacks, and receive in return rolls of dollars, 
and these eggs are being distributed by a committee. 
Some people are getting more than others. Everybody 
professes tremendous rage because a certain lady 
with blue-black hair is supposed to have used a 
whole dozen in the washing of her hair! She is one 
of those who have not been seen or heard of since the 
rifles began to speak. There are lots of that sort, all 
well nourished and timorous, while dozens of poor mis- 
sionary women are suffering great hardships. Several 
people who had relations in Paris thirty years ago tell 
me it was the same thing then, and that it will always 
be the same thing. This story of the eggs, however, 
has had one immediate result. People are hiding away 
more provisions and marking them off on their lists as 
eaten. What is the use of depriving one's self for the 
common good later on under such circumstances? 
What, indeed ! 

There is another sign which is not pleasing any one. 
An official diary is being now written up under orders of 
the headquarters. It will be full of our Peking diplo- 
matic half-truths. But, worst of all, our only correspon- 
dent, M , who was shot the other day and is get- 
ting convalescent, has been taken under the wing of 
our coinmander-in-chief, and his lips will be sealed by 



MORE DIPLOMACY 253 

the time we get out if ever we get out. With an 
official history and a discreet independent version, no 
one will ever understand what bungling there has been, 
and what culpability. It is our chicken-hearted chiefs, 
and they alone, who should be discredited. With a few 
exceptions, they are more afraid than the women, and 
never venture beyond the British Legation. Everything 
is left to the younger men, whose economic value is 
smaller! I hope I may live to see the official 
accounts. . . . 



XXII 

THE WORLD BEYOND OUR BRICKS 

2d August, 1900. 



A new month has dawned, and with it have come shoals 
of letters bringing us exact tidings from the outer world. 
Yesterday one messenger slipped in bearing three letters. 
To-day another has arrived with six missives making 
nine letters in all for those who have had nothing at 
all except a couple of cipher messages for two entire 
months. Those nine letters meant as much to us as a 
winter's mail by the overland route in the old days. . . . 

For as each one confirms and adds to the news of the 
others, we can now form a complete and well-connected 
story of almost everything that has taken place. We 

even begin to understand why S and his two 

thousand sailors never reached us. There have been so 
many things doing. 

But all minor details are forgotten in the fact that there 
is absolute and definite news of the relief columns 
news which is repeated and confirmed nine times over 
and cannot be false this time. The columns were form- 
ing for a general advance as the letters were sent off. 
The advance guard was leaving immediately, the main 
body following two days later; and the whole of the 
international forces would arrive before the middle of 
the month of August. That is what the letters said. 
Also, the American Minister's cipher message had got 



THE WORLD BEYOND OUR BRICKS 255 

through, and was now known to the entire world* 
Everybody's eyes were fixed on Peking, There was 
nothing else spoken of. That made us stronger tharf 
anything else. Poor human nature we are so ego- 
tistical ! 

But there were other items of news. For the first 
time we learned that Tientsin has had a siege and bom- 
bardment of its own; that all Manchuria is in flames; 
that the Yangtse Valley has been trembling on the brink 
of rebellion; that Tientsin city has at last been captured 
by European troops and a provisional government firmly 
established; and that many of the high Chinese officials 
have committed suicide in many parts of China. It is 
curious what a shock all this news gave, and how many 
people behaved almost as if their minds had become 
unhinged. But then we have had two months of it, 
and in two months you can travel far. In the hospital 
it was noticed, too, that all the wounded became more 
sick. ... It has been decided that any further news 
must be only gradually divulged, and that despatches 
which give absolute details can no longer be posted on 
the Bell-tower. . . . 

A network of ruined houses around the old Mongol 
market have just been seized and occupied by a volunteer 
force. This is the last weak spot there is a half-closed 
gap, which could be rushed by bodies of men coming in 
from the Ch'ien Men Gate and ordered to attack us. 
This new angle of native houses are being sandbagged 
and loopholed. Both sides, defenders and attacking 
forces, are now as ready as possible. What is going to 
happen? I am mightily tired of speculating and of 
writing. 



XXIII 

TRIFLES 

4th August, 1900. 



There is now, and has -been for the best part of the 
last forty-eight hours, outpost shooting on all sides, 
which remains quite unexplained. Listen how it 
happens. 

You are sitting at a loophole, half asleep, perhaps, 
during the daytime, when crack ! a bullet sends a shower 
of brick chips and a powder-puff of dust over your head. 
You swear, maybe, and quietly continue dozing. Then 
come two or three rifle reports and more dust. This 
time the thing seems more serious, it may mean some- 
thing; so you reach for your glasses and carefully sur- 
vey the scene beyond through your loophole. To re- 
main absolutely hidden is the order of the day. So there 
is nothing much to be seen. Far away, and very near, 
lie the enemy's barricades, some running almost up to 
your own, but quite peaceful and silent, others standing 
up f rowningly hundreds of yards off, monuments erected 
weeks ago. These latter are so distant that they are 
unknown quantities. Then just as you are about to give 
it up as a bad job, you see the top of a rifle barrel 
glistening in the sun. You . . . bang ! perilously near 
your glasses another bullet has struck. So you pull 
up your rifle by the strap, open out your loophole a little 
by removing some of the bricks, and carefully and slowly 
you send the answering message at the enemy's head. 



TRIFLES 257 

If you have great luck a faint groan or a distant shout 
of pain may reward your efforts; but you can never be 
quite sure whether you have got home on your rival or 
not Loophole shooting is very tricky, and the very best 
shots fire by the hour in vain. I have seen that 
often. . . . 

Yesterday I directly disobeyed orders by opening the 
ball myself. I had been posted in the early morning 
very close to one of the enemy's banners perhaps not 
more than forty feet away and this gaudy flag, de- 
fiantly flapping so near the end of my nose, must have 
incensed me; for almost before I had realised what I 
was doing I was very slowly and very carefully aiming 
at the bamboo staff so as to split it in two and bring 
down the banner w T ith a run. I fired three shots in ten 
minutes and missed in an exasperating fashion. It is 
the devil's own job to do really accurate work with an 
untested government rifle. But my fourth shot was more 
successful; it snapped the staff neatly enough, and the 
banner floated to the ground just outside the barricade. 

This Chinese outpost must have been but feebly 
manned, as, indeed, all the outposts have been since the 
armistice, for it was fully ten minutes before anything 
occurred. Then an arm came suddenly over and pecked 
vainly at the banner. I snapped rapidly, missed, and 
the arm flicked back. Another five minutes passed, and 
then a piece of curved bamboo moved over the barri- 
cade and hunted about. It was no use, however, the 
arm had to come, too. I waited until the brown hand 
clasping the bamboo was low and then pumped a quick 
shot at it. A yell of pain answered me ; the bamboo was 
dropped, the arm disappeared. I had drawn blood. 



258 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Nothing now occurred for a quarter of an hour, and I 
heard not a sound. Then suddenly half a dozen arms 
clasping bamboos appeared at different points, and as 
soon as I had fired six heads swooped out and directed 
this bamboo fishing. In a trice they had harpooned the 
flag, and before I could fire again it was back in their 
camp. I had been beaten! Then, as a revenge, I was 
steadily pelted with lead for more than half an hour 
and had to lie very low. They searched for me with 
their missiles with devilish ingenuity. This firing be- 
came so persistent that one of our patrols at last appeared 
and crept forward to me from the line of main works 
behind. Only by ingenious lying did I escape from 
being reported. . . . 

Probably incidents like this account for the outpost 
duels which are hourly proceeding, in spite of all the 
Tsung-li Yamen despatches and the unending mutual 
assurances. Many of our men shoot immediately they 
see a Chinese rifle or a Chinese head in the hopes of 
adding another scalp to their tale. In any case, this 
does no harm. It seems to me that only the resolution 
of the outposts, acting independently, and sometimes 
even in defiance to orders from headquarters, has kept 
the enemy so long at bay. The rifle distrusts diplomacy. 

This diplomatic correspondence with the Yamen is 
rapidly accumulating. Many documents are now com- 
ing through from European Foreign Offices in the form 
of cipher telegrams, that are copied out by the native 
telegraphists in the usual way. No one is being told 
what is in these documents; we can only guess. The 
Yamen covers each message with a formal despatch In 
Chinese, generally begging the Ministers to commit 
themselves to the care of the government. They now 



TRIFLES 2.59 

even propose that ever}' one should be escorted to Tient- 
sin at once. And yet we have learned from copies of 
the Peking Gazette that two members of the Yamen \\ ere 
executed exactly seven days ago for recommending a 
mild policy and making an immediate end of the Boxer 
regime. It is thus impossible to see how it will end. 
Our fate must ultimately be decided by a number of 
factors, concerning which we know nothing. 

This breathing space is giving time, however, which is 
not being entirely wasted on our part. At several points 
we have managed to enter Into secret relations with some 
of the Chinese commands, and to induce traitors to 
begin a secret traffic in ammunition and food sup- 
plies. . . . 

It is curious how it is done. By tunnelling through 
walls and houses in neglected corners, protected ways 
have been made into some of the nests of half-ruined 
native houses. And by spending many bags of dollars, 
friendship has first been bought and then supplies. 

The Japanese have been the most successful. Instead 
of killing the soldier-spy, who had been selling them 
false news, they pardoned him and enlisted him in this 
new cause. He has been very useful, and arranged 
matters with the enemy. . . . 

The other night I crept out through the secret way to 
the Japanese supply house to see how it was done. 
There were only two little Japanese in there squatting on 
the ground, with several revolvers lying ready. A 
shaded candle just allowed you to distinguish the torn 
roof, the wrecked wooden furniture. Nobody spoke a 
word, and we all listened intently. 

A full hour must have passed before a very faint noise 
was heard, and then I caught a discreet scratching. It 



260 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

was the signal. One of the little men got up and crawled 
forward to the door like a dog on his hands and knees. 
Then I heard a revolver click a short pause, and the 
noise of a door being opened. Then there was a tap 
tap tap, like the Morse code being quietly played, and 
the revolver clicked down again. It was the right man. 
He, too, crawled in like a dog; got up painfully, as if 
he w r ere very stiff, and silently began unloading. Then 
I understood why he was so stiff; he was loaded from 
top to bottom with cartridges. 

It took a quarter of an hour for everything to be taken 
out and stacked on the floor. He had carried in close 
on six hundred rounds of Mauser ammunition, and for 
every hundred he received the same weight in silver. 
This man was a military cook, who crept round and 
robbed his comrades as they lay asleep, not a hundred 
yards from here. Of course, he will be discovered one 
day and torn to pieces, but I have just learned that by 
marvellous ingenuity and with the aid of a few of his 
fellows thousands of eggs have been brought in by him. 
It is a curious business, and adds yet another strange 
element to this strangest of lives. 



XXIV 
DIPLOMATIC CONFIDENCES 

6th August, 1900. 



Firing has been more persistent and more general dur- 
ing the last two days, although the armistice ostensibly 
still continues in the same way as before. A number of 
our men have been wounded, and two or three even 
killed during the past week. It is an extraordinary state 
of affairs, but better than a general attack all along the 
line. We have no right to complain. The day before 
yesterday several Russians were badly wounded; yester- 
day a Frenchman was killed outright and a couple of 
other men wounded; to-day three more have been hit. 
In spite of the discharges from the hospitals, the num- 
bers hors de combat remain the same. 

To-day, too, trumpets are again blaring fiercely, and 
more and more troops can be seen moving if one looks 
down from the Tartar Wall. Up on the wall itself, 
however, all is dead quiet. It has been like that for 
weeks. No men have been lost there. 

Neither is there any news of the thick relief columns 
which should be advancing from Tientsin. In spite of 
the shoals of letters I have duly recorded, assuring us of 
their immediate departure, the majority of us have again 
become rather incredulous about our approaching relief. 
It has become such a regular thing, this siege life, and 
all other kinds of life are somehow so far away and so 



202 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Impossible after what we have gone through, that we 
look upon the outer world as something mythical. . . . 
Some men have their minds a little unhinged; two are 
absolutely mad. One, a poor devil of a Norwegian 
missionary 7 , who has been living in misery for years in a 
vain effort to make converts, became so dangerous long 
ago that he had to be locked up, and even bound. But 
one night he managed to escape, climb our defences and 
deliver himself up to the Chinese soldiery. They led 
him also to the Manchu Generalissimo, Jung Lu, half 
suspecting that he was crazy. Jung Lu questioned him 
closely as to our condition, and the Norwegian divulged 
everything he knew. He said the Chinese fire had been 
too high to do us very much harm ; that they should drive 
low at us, and remember the flat trajectory of modern 
weapons. After keeping him for some hours and learn- 
ing all he could, Jung Lu sent him back. The poor 
devil, when he lurched in again, vacantly told the 
people in the British Legation what he had said, 
and a number demanded that he be shot for treason. If 
they once began doing that an end would never be 
reached. . . , 

Some go mad, too, during the fighting. It is always 
those who have too much imagination. Thus, during a 
lull in the attacks against the French lines, a Russian 
volunteer, with rifle and bandolier across his back and a 
bottle of spirits in his hand, charged furiously at the 
Chinese barriers with Insane cries. No effort could be 
made to save him, because hundreds of Chinese riflemen 
were merely waiting for an opportunity to pick off our 
men. So the doomed Russian reached the first Chinese 
barricade unmolested, put a leg over, and then fell back 
with a terrible cry as a dozen rifles were emptied into 



DIPLOMATIC CONFIDENCES 263 

his body. By a miracle he picked himself up even in 
his dying condition, and made another frantic effort to 
climb the obstacle. But more rifles were then dis- 
charged, and finally the wretched man fell back quite 
lifeless. Then over his body a fierce duel took place. 
Chinese commanders having placed a price on European 
heads, these riflemen were determined not to lose their 
reward. Man after man attempted to drag in that dead 
body; but each time our men were too quick for them, 
and a Chinese brave rolled over. In the end they 
hooked the corpse in with long poles and it was seen no 
more. 

A yet more blood-curdling case is that of a British 
marine, who has been hopelessly mad for weeks now. 
He shot and bayonetted a man in the early part of the 
siege, and the details must have horrified him. They say 
he first drove his bayonet in right up to the hilt through 
a soldier's chest; and then, without withdrawing, 
emptied the whole of the contents of his magazine into 
his victim, muttering all the time. Now he lies repeat- 
ing hour after hour, "How It splashes ! how it splashes !" 
and at night he shrieks and cries. ... In that miserable 
Chancery hospital, swept by rifle-fire and full of such 
cries and groans, the nights have become dreaded, until 
it is a wonder the wounded still live* . . . 

Still, with all this, the Yamen messengers continue to 
come and go with clockwork regularity. Yesterday the 
Chinese Government excelled itself, and made some 
who have still a sense of humour left laugh cynically. 
In an original official despatch that is, not a mere cov- 
ering despatch it politely informed the Italian Charge 
d'Afaires that King Humbert had been assassinated by 
a lunatic, and it begged to convey the news with its most 



264 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING * 

profound condolences ! Perhaps, however, there was a 
wish to point a moral a subtle moral such as Chinese 
scholars love. Yes, on second thoughts that was rather 
a clever despatch ; in diplomacy the Chinese have noth- 
ing to learn. . . . 



XXV 

THE PLOT AGAIN THICKENS 

8th August, 1900. 



Some strange deity is helping the Chinese Govern- 
ment. There is always something appropriate to write 
about. Yesterday the Duke of Edinburgh died. We 
were officially informed to that effect, after the King 
Humbert manner, and the condolences were great. Yes- 
terday, also, during the evening, shelling suddenly com- 
menced and the cannon-mouths that have been leering 
at us from a distance in dull curiosity at their inactivity 
have barked themselves hoarsely to life again. Thus, 
while diplomacy still continues, shrapnel and segment are 
plunging about. At times it really seems as if the Chi- 
nese Government had succeeded in dividing us up into 
two distinct categories. It has tried to save the diplo- 
mats from shells and bullets; since they remain with 
the others they must share their fate. 

We listened to this cannonade with tightly pressed lips 
last night for an hour and more, and, lying low, watched 
the splinters fly; and then, just as the clamour appeared 
to be growing, it ceased as suddenly as it had com- 
menced, and the uproarious trumpets, that we know so 
well, once more called off the attacking forces with their 
stentorian voices. It seems as if an internecine warfare 
had begun outside our lines that the loosely jointed 
Chinese Government is also struggling with itself. 



INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Thus legs and arms thrash around for a while and cause 
chaos; then the brain reasserts its sway, and the limbs 
become quieted and reposeful for a time. Never will 
there be such a siege again. I am beginning to under- 
stand something of all its vast complexity, to know that 
everybody is at once guilty and innocent, and that a 
strange deity decrees that it must be so. ... 

For while we are beginning to be attacked fitfully, 
other strange things have been observed from the Tartar 
Wall. There has been some fighting and shooting in the 
burned and ruined Ch'ien Men great street down below, 
and Chinese cavalry have been seen chasing and cutting 
down red-coated men. A species of Communismjnay in 
the end rise from the ashes of the ruined capital, of* a 
new dynasty be proclaimed, or nothing may Happen at 
all, excepting that we shall die of starvation in a few 
weeks. . . . 

The native Christians in the Su wang-fu are already 
getting ravenous with hunger, and are robbing us of 
every scrap of food they can garner up. Their pro- 
visioning has almost broken down, in spite of every 
effort, and the missionary committees and sub-com- 
mittees charged with their feeding are beginning to dis- 
criminate, they say. These vaunted committees cannot 
but be a failure except in those things which immediately' 
concern the welfare of the committees themselves. The 
feeble authority of headquarters, now that puny diplo- 
macy has been so busy, has become more feeble than it 
was in the first days, and, like the Chinese Government, 
we, too, shall soon fall to pieces by an ungumming 
process. Native children are now dying rapidly, and 
two weeks more will see a veritable famine. The trees 
are even now all stripped of their leaves ; cats and dogs 



THE PLOT AGAIN THICKENS 207 

are hunted down and rudely beaten to death with 
stones, so that their carcases may be devoured. Many 
of the men and women cling to life with a desperation 
which seems wonderful, for some are getting hardly 
any food at all, and their ribs are cracking through 
their skin. There is something wrong somewhere, 
for while so many are half starving, the crowds 
of able-bodied converts used in the fortification work 
are fairly well fed. Nobody seems to wish to pay 
much attention to the question, although many reports 
have been sent in. Perhaps, from one point of 
view, it is without significance whether these useless 
people die or not. Hardly any of the many non- 
combatant Europeans stir beyond the limits of the Brit- 
ish Legation, even with this lull. All sit there talking 
talking eternally and praying for relief, calculating 
our chances of holding out for another two or three 
weeks, but never acting. A roll, indeed, has been made 
at last, with every able-bodied man's name set down, and 
a distribution table drawn up. But beyond that no 
action has been taken, and the hundred and more men 
who might be added to our active forces are allowed to 
do nothing. 

This might be all right were there not certain ominous 
signs around us, which show that a change must soon 
come. For the enemy has planted new banners on all 
sides of us, bearing the names of new Chinese generals 
unknown to us. Audaciously driven into the ground but 
twenty or thirty feet from our outposts, these gaudy 
flags of black and yellow, and many other colours, 
flaunt us and mock us with the protection assured by 
the Tsung-li Yamen. Still, those despatches continue 
to come in, but the first interpreter of the French Lega- 



268 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

tion, who sees some of them In the original, says that 
their tone is becoming more surly and imperative. 

It is ominous, too, that the Chinese commands, which 
have been so reinforced and are now of great strength, 
are so close to our outer line that they heave over heavy 
stones in order to maim and hurt our outposts without 
firing. All the outer barricades and trenches are being 
hurriedly roofed in to protect us from this new danger. 
One of our men, struck on the head with a twenty-pound 
stone, has been unconscious ever since, and a great many 
others are badly hurt in other ways. The Chinese can 
be very ingenious devils if they wish, and the score 
against them is piling up more and more. 



XXVI 

MORE MESSENGERS 

icth August, 1900. 



At last some great news ! Messengers from the relief 
columns have actually arrived, and the columns them- 
selves are only a few days' march from Peking. What 
excitement there has been among the non-combatant 
community; what handshaking; what embracing; what 
fervent delight ! This unique life is to end ; we are to 
become reasonably clean and quite ordinary mortals 
again, lost among the world's population of fifteen hun- 
dred millions undistinguished, unknown that is, if 
the relief gets in, ... 

The messengers came to us apparently from nowhere, 
walking in after the Chinese manner, which is quite non- 
chalantly, and with the sublime calm of the East. One 
of the first slid in and out of the enemy's barricades with 
immense effrontery at dawn, and then climbed the 
Japanese defences, and produced a little ball of tissue 
paper from his left ear. Fateful news contained so long 
in that left ear ! It was a cipher despatch from General 
Fukishima, chief of the staff of the relieving Japanese 
columns. It said that the advance guard would reach 
the outskirts of Peking on the I3th or I4th, if all went 
welL Heavens, we all said, as we calculated aloud, that 
meant only three or four days more. . . . 

This news was soon duplicated, for hardly had tfie first 
excitement subsided when the news spread that a second 



270 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

messenger from the British General of the relieving 
forces had managed to force his way through. It was 
a confirmation, was his message; three or four days 
more. . . . But the messenger, when he spoke, had 
other things to say. He had been sent out by us a week 
before by being lowered by ropes from the Tartar 
Wall. Forty miles from Peking he had met Black cav- 
alry and Russian cavalry miles in advance of the other 
soldiery. They had charged at him and captured him, 
and led him before generals and officers. . . . The roads 
leading to Peking were littered with wounded and dis- 
banded Chinese soldiery; there had been much fighting, 
but the natives could not withstand the foreigner that 
is what their compatriot said. Everybody was terrified 
by the Black soldiery from India ; they had come in the 
same way forty years before. . . . 

So the relieving armies are truly rolling up on Peking. 
It seems incredible and unreal, but it is undoubtedly 
true, and it must be accepted as true. . . . 

As if goaded by the terrors conjured up by these aveng- 
ing armies, which are now so close, the Tsung-li Yamen, 
in some last despatches, has informed our Plenipoten- 
tiaries that it is decapitating wholesale the soldiery that 
have been firing on us that it wishes for personal inter- 
views with all our Ministers to arrange everything, so 
that there may be no more misunderstandings later on. 
Vain hope! Numbers of documents are coming in, and 
every Minister wishes to write something in return 
to show that with the return of normal conditions there 
will be a return of importance. Somehow it seems fo"me 
that not one of them can become important again in Pe- 
king. They have been too ridiculous politically, they 
are already all dead. 



XXVII 

THE ATTACKS RESUMED 

1 2th August, 1900. 



All thoughts of relief have been pushed Into the middle 
distance and even beyond by the urgent business we 
have now on hand. For the attacks have been suddenly 
resumed, and have been continuous, well sustained, and 
far worse than anything we have ever experienced be- 
fore, even in the first furious days of the siege. What 
stupendous quantities of ammunition have been loosed 
off on us during the past forty-eight hours what tons 
of lead and nickel ! Some of our barricades have been 
so eaten away by this fire, that there is but little left, and 
we are forced to lie prone on the ground hour after 
hour, not daring to move and not daring to send reliefs 
at the appointed intervals. So intense has the rifle-fire 
been around the Su Wang-fu and the French Legation 
lines, that high above the deafening roar of battle a dis- 
tinct and ominous snake-like hissing can be heard a 
hiss, hiss, hiss, that never ceases. It is the high-velocity 
nickel-nosed bullet tearing through the air at lightning 
speed, and spitting with rage at its ill success in driving 
home on some unfortunate wretch. They hiss, hiss, hiss, 
hour after hour, without stopping; and as undertone 
to that brutal hiss there is the roll of the rifles themselves, 
crackling at us by the thousand like dry fagots. At 
first this storm of sound paralyses you a little; then a 



^7J INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

lust for battle gains you, and you steadily drive bullets 
through the Chinese loopholes in the hope of finding a 
Chinese face. Whenever they bunch and press forward 

we wither them to pieces But men are falling on 

our side more rapidly than we care to think one rolled 
over on top of me two hours ago drilled through and 
through and if anything should happen to the reliev- 
ing columns and delay their arrival for only two or three 
days, this tornado of fire will have swept all our de- 
fenders into the hospitals. The Chinese guns are also 
booming again, and shrapnel and segment are tearing 
down trees and outhouses, bursting through walls, splin- 
tering roofs, and wrecking our strongest defences more 
and more. Just now one of our few remaining ponies 
was struck, and it was a pitiable sight, giving a bloody 
illustration of the deadly force of shell-fragments. The 
piece that struck this poor animal was not very big, but 
still it simply tore into his flank, and seemed to burst him 
in two. With his entrails hanging out and his agonised 
eyes mutely protesting, the pony staggered and fell. 
Then we despatched him with our rifles. 

Our casualty list has now passed the two hundred mark, 
they say. In a few days more, fifty per cent, of the total 
force of active combatants will have been either killed 
or wounded. 

During the lulls which occur between the attacks, when 
the Chinese soldiery are probably coolly refreshing them- 
selves with tea and pipes and hauling away those who 
have succumbed, we hear from the north of the city the 
same dull booming of big guns, continuous, relentless, 
and never-tiring. It is the sound of the Chinese artillery 
ranged against the great fortified Roman Catholic 
Cathedral. When we have a few moments we can well 



THE ATTACKS RESUMED 5273 

picture to ourselves this valiant Bishop F , with 

cross in hand, like some old-time warrior-priest, pointing 
to the enemy, and urging his spear-armed flocks to stand 
firm along the outer rim. We can also see, in the smoke 
and dust, the thin fringe of sailors who must be form- 
ing the mainstay of the defence. Perhaps, sprinkled 
along the compound walls, with harsh-speaking rifles in 
their hands, they are a sort of human incense, exorcising 
by their mere presence the devils in pagan hearts. . . . 
Scant time for thoughts; none for recording, as each 
hour shows more clearly what we may expect. Scarcely 
has the fire been stilled in one quarter than it breaks out 
with even greater violence in another, and we are hur- 
ried in small reinforcements from point to point. And 
from the positions on the Tartar Wall, which are now 
also dusted by a continually growing fire that would 
sweep our men off in a cloud of sand-bags and brick-chips, 
the enemy's attacks can be best understood. The grow- 
ing number of rifles being brought to bear on us; the vio- 
lence and increasing audacity; the building of new barri- 
cades that press closer and closer to our own, and are 
now so near that they almost crush in our chests are 
all clear from the reports sent down. The relief columns 
on the Tientsin road are driving in unwieldy Chinese 
forces on top of us, and this native soldiery is falling 
back on the capital to be remarshalled after a fashion 
placed on the city walls or flung against us in a despair- 
ing attempt to kill us all, and remove the Thing which 
is making the relieving columns advance so quickly. 
Crazy with fear, and with ghosts of the chastisement of 
1860 etched on every column of dust raised by their 
retreating soldiery, the Chinese Government is acting 
like one possessed. 



27 * INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

To-day I saw it all beautifully, with the aid of the 
best glasses we have got. First came bodies of Infantry 
trotting hurriedly in their sandals and glancing about 
them. In the dust and the distance they seemed to have 
lost all formation to be mere broken fragments. But 
once a man stopped, looked up at us, a mere dot in the 
ruined streets hundreds and hundreds of yards away, 
and then savagely discharged his rifle at us. " He knew 
we were on the Tartar Wall, and so sent his impotent 
curses at us through a three- foot steel tube. . . . Behind 
such men were long country carts laden with wounded 
and broken men, and driven by savage-looking drivers, 
powdered with our cursed dust and driving standing up 
with voice and whip alone. The teams of ponies were 
all mud-stained and tired, and moved very slowly away; 
and their great iron-hooped wheels clanked discordantly 
over the stone-paved ways. Sometimes a body of cav- 
alry, with gaudy banners in the van and the men flogging 
on their steeds with short whips, have also ridden by 
escaping from the rout Infantry and horsemen, 
wounded in carts and wounded on foot, flow back into 
the city through the deserted and terror-stricken streets, 
and it is we who shall suffer. So much of this has been 
understood by everybody, that an order has been pri- 
vately given that no one is to be allowed on the Tartar 
Wall, excepting the regular reliefs. There is in any 
case no time for most of us to creep up there and look on 
the city below; we are tied to the barricades and trenches 
down in the flat among the ruins, chained to our posts by 
a never-ending rifle-fire. 



XXVIII 
THE THIRTEENTH 

1 3th August, 1900. 



It is the 1 3th, that fateful number, and there are some 
who are divided between hope and fear. Is it good 
to hope on a I3th, or is it mere foolishness to think 
about such things? Who knows? for we have be- 
come unnatural and abnormal subject to atavistic 
tendencies in thought and action. . . . Most people 
are keeping their thoughts to themselves, but actions 
cannot be hidden. You would not believe some of the 
things. . . . 

There has not been a sign or a word from the relief 
column for many hours. The fleeing Chinese soldiery 
we witnessed in such numbers yesterday entering the city 
have stopped rushing in, and now from the Tartar Wall 
the streets below in the outer city seem quite silent and 
deserted. Last night, too, it was seen that the line of 
the enemy's rifles packed against us was so continuous, 
and the spacing so close, that one continuous flame of 
fire ripped round from side to side and deluged us with 
metal. So heavy was this firing, so crushing, that it was 
paralysing. Any part broken into would have been irre- 
trievably lost. The bullets and shells struck our walls 
and defences in great swarms, sometimes several hun- 
dred projectiles swishing down at a time. There must 
1 have been ten or twelve thousand infantry firing at us 



276 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

and fifteen guns. Where I lay, with a post of sixteen 

men, there were more than five hundred riflemen facing 

us, at distances varying from forty feet to four hundred 

yards. Every ruined house outside the fringe of our 

defence has now been converted into a blockhouse by 

the persistent enemy. Every barricade we have built 

has a dozen other barricades opposing it in parallels, in 

chessboards, in every kind of formation; and from these 

barricades the fire poured in since the loth that is, for 

sixty long hours has only ceased at rare intervals. Our 

stretcher-parties have been very busy, but how many men 

we have lost since the armistice was deliberately broken 

no one knows. Yesterday a French captain, a gallant 

officer, who feared nothing, was shot dead through the 

head, making the ninth officer killed or severely 

wounded since the beginning. Yesterday, also, the new 

Mongol market defences trembled on the brink hour 

after hour, and with them the fate of three thousand 

heads. New Chinese troops armed with Mannlicher 

carbines, the handiest weapons for barricade fighting, 

had been pushed up behind a veil of light entrenchments 

to within twenty feet of the Mongol market posts, and 

their fire was so tremendous that it drove right through 

our bricks and sand-bags. God willed that just as the 

final rush was coming a Chinese barricade gave way; 

our men emptied their magazines with the rapidity of 

despair into the swarms of Chinese riflemen disclosed; 

dozens of them fell killed and wounded, and the rest 

were driven back in disorder. Ten seconds more would 

have made them masters of our positions. The closeness 

of this final agony was such that squads of reserves, 

who had not fired a shot during the siege, voluntarily 

went forward to the threatened points and lay there 



THE THIRTEENTH 277 

the whole night. At last it has been driven home on 
all that our fate hangs in the balance, and has hung in 
the balance for weeks. But it is too late now. If a 
single link in our chain is broken there will be a sauve 
qui pent which no heroism can stop. 



XXIX 
THE NIGHT OF THE THIRTEENTH 

I4th August, 1900. 



All yesterday the fire hardly diminished in violence, 
and more and more of our men were hit. . . . The 
Chinese commanders, having learned of the loss of a 
Chinese general and a great number of his men at the 
Mongol market, have been having their revenge by giv- 
ing us not a minute's rest. Up to six o'clock yesterday 
evening I had been continually on duty for forty-eight 
hours, with a few minutes' sleep during the lulls. At six 
in the evening I stretched out. At half -past eight the 
pandemonium had risen to such a pitch that sleep with- 
out opiates was impossible. All round our lines roared 
and barked Mausers, Mannlichers, jingals, and Tower 
muskets, every gun that could be brought to bear on us 
firing as fast and as fiercely as possible in a last wild 
effort. The sound was so immense, so terrifying, that 
many could hardly breathe. Against the barricades, 
through half-blocked loopholes, and on to the very 
ground, myriads of projectiles beat their way, hissing 
and crashing, ricochetting and slashing, until it seemed 
impossible any living thing could exist in such a storm. 

It was the night of the i3th. Not a word had been 
heard of the relief columns, not a message, not a courier 
had come in. But could anything have dared to move 
to us? Even the Tsung-li Yamen, affrighted anew at 



THE NIGHT OF THE THIRTEENTH 279 

this storm of fire which it can no longer control, had 
not dared or attempted to communicate with us. We 
were abandoned to our own resources. At best we 
would have to work out our own salvation. Was it to 
be the last night of this insane Boxerism, or merely the 
beginning of a still more terrible series of attacks with 
massed assaults pushed right home on us ? In any case, 
there was but one course not to cede one Inch until the 
last man had been hit. All the isolated post-command- 
ers I had risen to be one decided that on us hinged 
the fate of all. The very idea of a supreme command 
watching intelligently and overseeing every spot of 
ground was impossible. It had been a war of post-com- 
manders and their men from the beginning; it would 
remain so to the bitter end. A siege teaches you that 
this is always so. 

By ten o'clock every sleeping man had been pulled up 
and pushed against the barricades. Privately all the 
doubtful men were told that if they moved they would 
be shot as they fell back. Everywhere we had been dis- 
covering that in the pitch dark many could hardly be 
held in place. By eleven o'clock the fire had grown to 
its maximum pitch. It was impossible that it could 
become heavier, for the enemy was manning every coign 
of vantage along the entire line, and blazing so fiercely 
and pushing in so close that many of the riflemen must 
have fallen from their own fire. From the great Tartar 
Wall to the Palace enclosure, and then round in a vast 
jagged circle, thousands of jets of fire spurted at us; and 
as these jets pushed closer and closer, we gave orders to 
reply steadily and slowly. Twice black bunches of men 
crept quickly in front of me, but were melted to pieces. 
By twelve o'clock the exhaustion of the attackers became 



280 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

suddenly marked. The rifles, heated to a burning pitch, 
were no longer deemed safe even by Chinese fatalists; 
and any men who had ventured out into the open had 
been so severely handled by our fire that they had no 
stomach for a massed charge. Trumpet calls now broke 
out along the line and echoed pealingly far and near. 
The riflemen were being called off. 

But hardly had the fire dropped for ten or fifteen 
minutes than it broke out again with renewed vigour. 
Fresh troops lying in reserve had evidently been called 
up, and by one o'clock the tornado was fiercer than ever. 
Our men became intoxicated by this terrible clamour, 
and many of them, infuriated by splinters of brick and 
stone that broke off in clouds from the barricades and 
stung us from head to foot, sometimes even inflicting 
cruel wounds, could no longer be held in check. By two 
o'clock every rifle that could be brought in line was reply- 
ing to the enemy's fire. If this continued, in a couple of 
hours our ammunition would be exhausted, and we 
would have only our bayonets to rely on. I passed down 
my line, and furiously attempted to stop this firing, but it 
was in vain. In two places the Chinese had pushed so 
close, that hand-to-hand fighting had taken place. This 
gives a lust that is uncontrollable. . . . Everything was 
being taken out of our hands. . . . 

Suddenly above the clamour of rifle-fire a distant boom 
to the far east broke on my ears, as I was shouting madly 
at my men. I held my breath and tried to think, but 
before I could decide, boom! came an answering big 
gun miles away. I dug my teeth into my lips to keep 
myself calm, but icy shivers ran down my back. They 
came faster and faster, those shivers. . . . You will 
never know that feeling. Then, boom ! before I had 



THE NIGHT OF THE THIRTEENTH 281 

calmed myself came a third shock; and then ten seconds 
afterwards, three booms, one, two, three, properly 
spaced. I understood, although the sounds only shiv- 
ered in the air. It was a battery of six guns coming into 
action somewhere very far off. It must be true ! I rose 
to my feet and shook myself. Then, in answer to the 
heavy guns, came such an immense rolling of machine- 
gun fire, that it sounded faintly, but distinctly, above the 
storm around us. Great forces must be engaged in the 
open. . . . 

I had been so ardently listening to these sounds that the 
enemy's fire had imperceptibly faded away in front of 
me unnoticed, until it had become almost completely 
stilled. Single rifles now alone cracked off ; all the other 
men must be listening too listening and wondering 
what this distant rumble meant. Far away the Chinese 
fire still continued to rage as fiercely but near us, by 
some strange chance, these distant echoes had claimed 
attention. 

Again the booming dully shook the air. Again the 
machine-guns beat their replying rataplan. Now every 
rifle near by suddenly was stilled, and a Chinese 
stretcher-party behind me murmured, "Ta ping lal tao 
liao" "the armies arrived." Somebody took this up, 
and then we began shouting it across in Chinese to our 
enemy, shouting it louder and louder in a sort of ecstasy, 
and heaving heavy stones to attract their attention. We 
must have become quite crazy, for my throat suddenly 
gave out, and I could only speak in an absurd whisper. 
. . . Oh, what a night ! . . . 

Behind the barricades facing us we could now dis- 
tinctly hear the Chinese soldiery moving uneasily and 
muttering excitedly to one another. They had under- 



282 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

stood that it must be the last night of Boxerism, so we 
threw more stones and shouted more taunts. Then, as 
if accepting the challenge, a rifle cracked off, a second 
one joined it, a third, a fourth, and soon the long lines 
blazed flames and ear-splitting sounds again. But it was 
the last night this did not matter assuredly it was the 
last night, and from our posts we despatched the first 
news to headquarters to report that heavy guns had been 
heard to the east. . . . 

Presently, going back during a lull to see ammunition 
brought up, I found that inside our lines the women and 
children had all risen, and were craning their necks to 
catch the distant sounds which had been so long in com- 
ing. All night long the buildings in the Su wang-fu, 
which are packed with native Christians, had been filled 
with the sound of praying. The elders appointed to 
watch over this vast flock had been warned that per- 
haps they would all have to retreat to the base at the 
last minute, and that all must remain ready during the 
night and none sleep. As soon as it was possible, they 
were told that the relief was coming that the end was 
near. , . . What a sight it was to see them all grouped 
together, for they had scrupulously obeyed orders ! In 
one great hall five hundred Roman Catholic women and 
children in sober blue gowns were sitting patiently and 
silently, with their hands folded had been sitting so all 
the long night, waiting to hear any news or orders that 
might be brought to them. Relief or retreat, massacre 
or deliverance all must be taken with the stoicism of 
the East. A single lamp cast its dim rays over these 
people ; and a hundred feet farther on were other halls 
and buildings, all filled to overflowing with these waiting 
miserables. A word would have sent them surging back 



THE NIGHT OF THE THIRTEENTH 283 

across the dry Imperial Canal to seek safety for a few 
hours in our base. Would it have been safety ? An im- 
mense flood of feeling overwhelmed me. . . . 

So the night passed uneasily away, but no more distant 
sounds were heard, and in the end we began to wonder 
whether our ears after this strain of weeks had not 
played us false. 



XXX 

HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 

1 4th August, 1900. 



Day broke, after that tremendous night, in a somewhat 
shambling and odd fashion. Exhausted by so much 
vigilance and such a strain, we merely posted a scattered 
line of picquets and threw ourselves on the ground. It 
was then nearly five o'clock, and with the growing light 
everything seemed unreal and untrue. There was not a 
sound around us; there was going to be no relief, and 
we had been only dreaming horrid dreams that was the 
verdict of our eyes and looks. There was but scant 
time, however, for thinking, even if one could have 
thought with any sense or logic. The skies were blush- 
ing rosier and rosier; a solitary crow, that had lived 
through all that storm, came from somewhere and began 
calling hoarsely to Its lost mates. We were dead with 
sleep ; we would sleep, or else . . . 

I awoke at eleven in the morning sick as a beaten dog. 
The sun was beating hotly down, and a fierce ray had 
found its way through the branches of my protecting 
tree and had been burning the back of my neck. The 
Eastern sun is a brute; when it strikes you long in a ten- 
der spot, it can make you sicker than anything I know of. 
Arousing ourselves, we got up all of us gruntingly; re- 
posted the sentries; drank some black tea; made a faint 
pretence at washing; and finding all dead quiet and not 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 285 

a trace of the enemy, sauntered off for news. Not a 
word anywhere, not a sound, not a message. Everybody 
was standing about in uneasy groups, from the French 
and German lines to the northern outposts of the British 
Legation. Where the devil were our relieving columns? 

From the Tartar Wall we scanned the horizon with 
our glasses. Not a soul afoot nothing. Was all the 
world still asleep, tired from the night's debauch, or was 
it merely the end of everything? As time went on, and 
the silence around us was uninterrupted, we became 
more and more nervous. In place of the storm of fire 
which had been raging for so many hours this unbroken 
calm was terrible ; for far worse than all the tortures in 
the world is the one of a solitary silent confinement. 

At one o'clock I could stand it no longer. Getting 
leave to take out a skirmishing party, I called for volun- 
teers, and got six men and two Chinese scouts. At half- 
past one we slid over the Eastern Su wang-fu barricades 
near where the messengers are sent from and scur- 
ried forward into the contested territory beyond. 
Working cautiously in a long line, we beat the ground 
thoroughly; approached the enemy's flanking barri- 
cades; peered over in some trepidation, and found the 
Chinese riflemen gone. Every soul had fled. Some- 
thing had most certainly happened somewhere. This 
quiet was becoming more and more eloquent. . . . 

We abandoned our cover, and boldly taking to the 
brick-littered street, climbed over fortifications which 
had shut us in for so long. Not a sound or a living 
thing. On the ground, however, there were many grim 
evidences of the struggle which had been so long pro- 
ceeding. Skulls picked clean by crows and dogs and the 
dead bodies of the scavenger-dogs themselves dotted the 



286 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

ground; in other places were pathetic wisps of pigtails 
half covered with rubbish, broken rifles, rusted swords, 
heaps of brass cartridges all proclaiming the bitterness 
with which the warfare had been waged in this small 
corner alone. Eagerly gazing about us, we slowly 
pushed on, drinking in all these details with eager eyes. 
How sweet it is to be an escaped prisoner even for a few 
short minutes ! 

In a quarter of an hour we had cleared the ground 
intervening between our defences and the long-aban- 
doned Customs Street perhaps a couple of hundred 
yards; and peering about us, we at last jumped over the 
French barricade, where our first man had been shot 
dead two months ago. Two months it might have 
been two years ! Still there was not a sound. Nothing 
but acres of ruins. Forward. 

Splitting into two sections, we began working down 
Customs Street towards the Austrian Legation, tightly 
hugging the walls and expecting a surprise every 
moment. Suddenly, as we were going along in this 
cautious manner, a tall, gaunt Chinaman started up only 
twenty feet from us, where he had been lying buried in 
the ruins. Our rifles went up with a leap, and 
"Master," cried the man, running towards me with out- 
stretched arms, "master, save me; I am a carter of the 
foreign Legations, and have only just escaped." He 
pulled up his blue tunic, this strange apparition, and 
showed me underneath his scapula. He was of Roman 
Catholic family ; there was no time to investigate ; he was 
all right. Telling him to join us, we marched on. We 
progressed another fifty yards, and then there was a 
scuffle, I looked round, and our Catholic had disap- 
peared. Were we trapped'? Just as I was calling out, 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 287 

he reappeared; this time he was bearing a rifle and a 
bandolier. This was disconcerting. "I saw the man," 
he began calmly, "and with my hands I killed him by 
pulling on the throat thus." He made a horrid panto- 
mime with his hands. Behind a wall we found the 
red and black tunic of a Chinese soldier, the sash and 
the boots, but of a corpse there was no sign. I was 
glad I understood. "What do you mean by deceiving 
me?" I sternly asked the carter. "These are yours, and 
it was you who were fighting against us." The man fell 
on his knees, and confessed then and there without sub- 
terfuge. He had been captured, he said, and imprisoned 
weeks ago by a Chinese commander, who had threatened 
to break the bones of his legs unless he enlisted against 
us. So he had joined and had been fighting for a month. 
Last night, as soon as the big guns had been heard, 
he deserted, and had lain where we found him for fifteen 
hours, waiting for our advances, and may his legs be 
broken if he lied. I paused in doubt for a minute ; then 
I made up my mind we let him follow! The odds 
were in any case against him. 

As we moved stealthily forward we came on more and 
more fortifications. A formidable blockhouse had been 
constructed by dragging out big steel safes, looted from 
the various European offices in this abandoned area, and 
building them into a thick half-moon of stone and brick, 
making a shell-proof defence. On the ground brass 
cartridge-cases and broken straps and weapons were 
littered more and more thickly, but of any sign of life 
there was absolutely none. Absolute stillness reigned 
around us. We might have been in a city abandoned 
for dozens of years. . . . 

Past this blockhouse we crept more and more cautiously, 



288 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

beating the ground thoroughly, and wasting many min- 
utes to make sure that no riflemen lurked in the ruins 
which covered the ground. Our new recruit had shown 
us how easily we could be trapped. Loopholes squinted 
at us from countless low-lying barricades roughly made 
by heaping bricks and charred timbers together. They 
had feared our sorties evidently as much as we had their 
rushes, had these Chinese soldiers. Their fortified lines 
were hundreds of feet deep. 

We were now down near the abandoned Austrian Lega- 
tion, and, rapidly trotting forward in Indian file under 
cover of the high encircling wall, we at last reached the 
main entrance. This was debatable ground. I looked 
round the corner with one cautious eye, and even as I did 
so, a shadow rushed along the ground. . . . Instantly 
I snapped off my rifle from my hip, the others followed 
suit, and a howl of canine rage answered us. We had 
rolled over a wolfish dog searching for dead bodies. 
Before we had time to realise much, the savage animal 
was up again and rushing at us to escape through the 
gate. As it passed, we clubbed and bayonetted him with 
neatness, for we have now some art in close-quarter 
work, and with a last howl the animal's life flickered out. 
Dogs are highly dangerous, as we knew to our cost; 
they give the alarm in a way which no living man, even 
in these civilised days, can fail to understand. We 
waited in some anguish to see whether this scuffle had 
been heard; we were a quarter of a mile away from our 
own lines by the circuitous route ,we had been forced to 
take, and if we were ambuscaded, no one would probably 
go back to tell the tale. . . . 

Still not a sound, not a word. A little encouraged, we 
crept more valiantly into the Austrian Legation, and 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 289 

stood amazed at the spectacle. Rank-growing weeds 
covered the ground two or three feet high ; all the houses 
and residences had been gutted by fire, everything com- 
bustible burned, leaving a terrible litter. But the brick- 
work and stonework stood almost intact, and the tall 
Corinthian pillars with which it had been the architect's 
fancy to adorn this mission of His Most Catholic 
Majesty, stood up white and chaste in all this scene of 
devastation and ruin; they might have dated from 
centuries ago. Broken weapons, thousands more of 
brass cartridges, and sometimes even a soldier's blood- 
stained tunic could be seen among the weeds. This must 
have been the site of another camp of Chinese soldiery. 
Abandoned straw matting showed where rough huts had 
once been built line upon line. But all these hosts had 
flown. 

We now held a council of war. What should we do 
push on or go back? It seemed highly dangerous, but 
suddenly making up my mind, I cut short all delibera- 
tions and ordered an advance. To feel for the enemy, 
to get in touch with the enemy at all costs, and to scratch 
him if possible, is evidently the scout's duty, even when 
the scout is but a siege amateur, with broken trousers, 
a mud-stained shirt and a battered rifle. But we must 
make ourselves secure. We bolted the big gates behind 
us; we sweatily piled up sufficient bricks to make its 
opening a matter of minutes for an enemy's hand, and 
then we once again trotted forward. This time we were 
Irrevocably inside the Legation, and separated, perhaps, 
for good and all from our own people. ... 

We rapidly covered the ground until we reached the 
extreme eastern corner of the vast enclosing Legation 
wall. Very recently there had been some one just here, 



290 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

for a fire was still smouldering on the ground, and in 
some earthenware bowls there was some cold rice. We 
must see what was beyond. . . . 

The big recruit lent me his broad shoulder, and with 
some struggling I caught the edge of an outhouse roof 
and hitched myself astride of the main wall. Still noth- 
ing to be seen except ruined and battered houses ; again 
not a soul, not a dog, not a vestige of life. The others 
came up, too, and we rapidly improvised a ladder to 
get down the other side and back again if necessary. 

We were busily at work completing these preparations 
when suddenly the big recruit grabbed me unceremoni- 
ously by the shoulder and uttered a single word in a 
hoarse tone of excitement. "Look," he said; "lookl" 
I looked, and far down the street below us towards 
where lay the Palace and the Imperial city, I saw a figure 
rapidly moving. A pair of binoculars were pulled out 
and brought to bear. It was a Chinese soldier ! 

We flattened ourselves on the top of the wall like so 
many crawling snails, pushed out our rifles in front of us, 
and at four hundred yards we most foolishly opened on 
the man. By instinct and experience, we had all learned 
much in two months; yet in a moment of excitement 
everything was being rapidly unlearned. . . . 

It takes some shooting to get home on a flickering 
figure, dodging along a street with irregular lines, at 
that range, and I confess we drew no blood. But still 
loophole shooting must spoil open-air work, otherwise 
at that range. . . . The man had paused irresolutely 
as the stream of bullets had hissed past him, and had 
then run violently into a doorway. Presently, as we 
intently watched, his head emerged, then his whole 
body; and, finally dodging quickly in and out, he 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 201 

gained a cross-road and disappeared. What did this 
mean? 

It did not take long to learn, for just as we had finished 
swearing at our ill luck, other figures began to appear in 
the same direction, and as they ran we could see that 
they were throwing down their things. It seemed 
plain now; these must be deserters slipping out of the 
Imperial city and the Palace enclosures and fleeing 
rapidly to escape some fate. Something must have 
certainly happened somewhere, although there was still 
nothing to be heard, except perhaps a distant . movement 
in the air, which might mean the rattle of musketry. 
Sometimes we could hear that faint suggestion of sound, 
sometimes we could not ; it was impossible to say what it 
was. 

Running gives Dutch courage, so we dropped from our 
wall, and we, too, began running towards the deserters. 
Most foolish scouts were we becoming. The first band 
of fugitives saw us and bolted to the north, one man 
loosing off his rifle at us as he ran, and his bullet making 
an ugly swish in the air just above our heads. It was 
that Chinese hip-shot which is practised with jingal and 
matchlock in the native hunting, and which these North- 
ern Chinese can with difficulty unlearn. As that swish 
reached us we pressed forward even more eagerly, and 
soon had debouched once more on the long Customs 
Street this time many hundreds of yards higher up 
than we had ever been before. Flattening ourselves on 
the ground, and barricading our heads with bricks, we 
waited in silence for more of the enemy to appear. We 
were now admirably and safely posted. 

It was some time before any more of them were to be 
seen, but at last, In twos and threes, other soldiers ap- 



292 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

peared, running hurriedly, and looking quickly about 
them, as if they expected to be shot down. This time 
they were men of many corps, whose uniforms we could 
almost make out at this short distance, and as they ran 
many of them threw off their tunics and loosened their 
leggings* This meant open and flagrant desertion. 
Just as I was about to give the order to fire a volley, a 
dense mass of men, in close formation, came out of a 
great building leaning up against the pink Palace walls 
and started marching rapidly towards us. Then as soon 
as they reached a cross-road five hundred yards away, 
they bent quickly due north and disappeared in a cloud 
of dust. What did this fleeing to the north of the city 
and this ominous quiet mean ? What in the name of all 
that is extraordinary was happening to cause these 
strange doings ? 

There was little time for reflection, however, for like 
some theatre of the gods new scenes began to unroll. 
Soon other bodies of troops appeared and disappeared, 
always heading away there towards the north, always 
marching rapidly with hurried looks cast around them. 
Now safe in the knowledge that a general retreat was 
taking place from this quarter, we started volleying sav- 
agely. Bunched together in twos and threes, the enemy 
offered an easy mark, and with a callousness born of long 
privations we dropped at least fifteen or twenty men in 
very few minutes. Lying flat on the ground our angles 
soon grew fixed on to our rifle-sights, and at one house- 
corner four hundred yards away, six times I made the 
same shot and dropped a deserter. But this heavy fir- 
ing must have attracted attention, for lead began to pelt 
at us from hidden places, and soon this little action be- 
came very warm. It was a curious experience, . . . 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 293 

It was now three in the afternoon, and, excepting for 
this unexplained movement of Chinese troops, we had 
not discovered any sign of our relief. Our volleying was 
becoming nonsensical, for having picked up numbers of 
Chinese Mauser cartridges, we amused ourselves firing 
away almost all the ammunition we carried. This could 
not continue indefinitely. So once more I drew my men 
together, and once again we scurried away, changing our 
direction to due east towards the great Ha-ta Gate. We 
were becoming callous, now that we knew there was 
small possibility of our being cut off, and half a mile 
from home meant nothing to us. 

We had almost reached the Ha-ta great street, and 
were beginning to feel that by some strange chance we 
had half the city to ourselves, when a furious galloping 
gave us a timely signal, and made us shrink into a native 
house, the doorway of which had been beaten in by 
marauders. We were just in time, for no sooner had we 
disappeared than a body of Manchu cavalry came 
rapidly past, flogging their ponies, and shouting excitedly 
to one another as they passed. At their head were a num- 
ber of high officials, and our new recruit whispered in a 
hoarse voice that an old man was no other than Jung Lu, 
the Manchu Generalissimo, who had command of every- 
thing. But whether this was actually so or not, there 
could be no doubt about the soldiery. They were ch'in 
ping, or body-guard troops, in sky-blue tunics, and this 
retirement was the most significant of all. There was 
now not a shadow of doubt. 

We waited patiently in some trepidation, until the 
sound of these galloping hoofs had died away com- 
pletely; and then peering out and finding the coast clear, 
we ran for it as hard as we could leg. Faster and faster 



294. INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

we spun along; we were not as safe as we thought. 
Three minutes brought us back again on Customs Street, 
and, panting sorely from this unaccustomed exertion, we 
looked around. Here there was now not a single sound, 
not the sight of a single man. 

For many minutes nothing again occurred, but at length 
more Chinese troops began to appear, all running 
rapidly in long flights, and a troop of cavalry came out of 
a side street not more than two hundred yards away 
from where we lay, and headed away at a furious gallop. 
Everybody was obviously making for the north of the 
city ; what was going on in the other quarters to cause this 
exodus? The cavalry, as they moved in close formation, 
were so tempting, that without hesitation once more our 
rifles rang out in a well-knit volley. That caused a terri- 
ble commotion, for cavalry are an easy mark. Ponies 
broke away and galloped frantically into sfde streets; 
there was a waving and a mix-up which blurred every- 
thing, and yet before we had time to realise it, bullets 
were hissing all round us and kicking up little spurts of 
dust a few inches from our bodies; a resolute com- 
mander was in front of us. This firing became so violent 
that we were driven to take shelter, and as we ran and 
were seen the bullets hissed quicker and quicker. Then 
as suddenly as it had commenced this pelting ceased; 
we saw our cavalrymen flicker away in the distance, and 
once more everything was absolutely quiet. It was ob- 
vious that something so urgent was taking place, that no 
one had any time to lose in pranks. 

Many minutes elapsed before we noticed any fresh 
signs of life, and we remained spread across the street on 
our stomachs, earnestly searching in vain for some ex- 
planation. At last, when I was becoming tired of it, fig- 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 295 

ures began to move on the long street again little 
indecisive blue dots that jerked -forward, halted, ap- 
peared and disappeared in a most curious way. They 
were also coming towards us jerking about like people 
possessed. Climbing a wall, I brought my glasses to 
bear; they were ordinary townspeople, there was not a 
shadow of doubt about that, men, women, and chil- 
dren, running violently, waving and calling to one an- 
other, and apparently much distressed. 

I remained on this wall-top idly gazing until my vision 
began to become blurred, and I could no longer see. 
Then something made me close my eyes for a second to 
regain command over them again; and when I opened 
them and looked again through that powerful Leiss, my 
jaw dropped. This time, with a vengeance, it was 
something new. Dense bodies of men in white tunics 
and dark trousers were debouching into the street, thou- 
sands of yards away, and were then marching due east 
that is, towards the Palace. They came on and on, until 
it seemed they would never cease. What were these 
newcomers ? Were they white troops at last were they 
Bannermen of the white Banners? . . . 

They might be anything anything in the world but 
they might be ... 

Yes, without a doubt they might be ordinary Russian 
infantry of the line. Russian infantry of the line ! It 
was imperative to learn. 

I clambered off the wall and decided at once on a grim 
test. All of us pushed up our flaps to the extreme range 
and gave four sharp volleys the eight rifles crashing 
off jarringly together. As we were preparing to give 
them the last cartridge on the clips, the white specks we 
could just see with the naked eye stopped and flickered 



296 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

away. Then as we waited there was a moment's 
silence; a little vapour spurted up far away, and bang! 
a shell whizzed, and burst two hundred yards to our 
rear. That was an immense surprise 1 But now we had 
no doubts; these were European troops; the relief must 
have come; it was all over; we must communicate the 
news. . . . 

Before our ideas had grouped themselves coherently, 
we found ourselves bolting home bolting like madmen. 
We charged clear down the middle of the street, with a 
disregard for everything; we headed straight as arrows 
for the French lines, right through the heart of the most 
formidable Chinese works, where but twelve hours 
before furious attacks had been developed. We tore 
through hundreds of feet of trenches, barricades, saps, 
half-opened tunnels, where everything was scored and 
beaten by the riotous passage of nickel and lead. We 
vaguely saw, as we rushed, lines of mat huts, broken 
walls, charred timbers, countless brass cartridge cases, 
gaping holes all the wreckage left by these weeks of 
insane warfare. But of living things there was not a 
trace. 

Beating our way rapidly forward, we at length passed 
through those death-strewn French Legation lines, and 
reached our own last barricades, where the defence had 
been driven. Supposing that our men were still behind 
them, we violently shouted that we were friends. No- 
body answered us. 

Curiously alarmed, we clambered forward more and 
more quickly, and at last near the fortified little Hotel 
de Pekin a confused sound of voices arose from a stoutly 
fortified quadrangle. Then as we drew nearer the voices 
grew, until they framed themselves into half-suppressed 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 297 

cheers a multitude of men uneasily greeting and calling 
to one another. At least, we had not been abandoned ! 
I put my leg up to swarm over a wall, and suddenly a 
thick smell greeted my nostrils, a smell I knew, because 
I had smelt it before, and yet a smell which belonged to 
another world. . . . With tremendous heart-beating, I 
looked over. It was the smell of India 1 Into this quad- 
rangle beyond hundreds of native troops were filing and 
piling arms. They were Rajputs, all talking together, 
and greeting some of our sailors and men, and demand- 
ing immediately pane, pane, pane all the time in a 
monotonous chorus. I could not understand that word. 
The relief had come ; this must be some sections of an 
advance guard which had been flung forward, and had 
burst in unopposed. . . . 

We hurried forward in a sort of daze and looked for 
officers, to ask them how they had come, and whether it 
was all right. We found a knot of them, standing 
together, wiping the sweat from their streaming faces, 
and calling for water. They wanted to go to the British 
Legation ; not to this place what was it ; where was the 
British Legation ? In the heat and smell and excitement 
those continuous questions made one confused and angry. 
This advance guard which had rushed in could not 
understand our all-split area ; yet it had been the saving 
of us. I told them where the British Legation was. I 
told them to follow me ; I was going to run. 

I ran on, once more choking a little, and with a curious 
desire to weep or shout or make uncouth noises. I was 
now terribly excited. I remember I kicked my way 
through barricades with such energy that once for my 
foolishness I came crashing down, my rifle loosing off of 
its own account and the bullet passing through my hat. I 



298 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

did not care ; the relief had come. It was an immense 
occasion, and I had not been there to see it. 
Along the dry canal-bed, as I ran out of the Legation 
Street, I noted without amazement that tall Sikhs were 
picking their way in little groups, looking dog-tired. 
But they were very excited, too, and waved their hands 
to me as I ran, and called and cried with curious intona- 
tions. Pioneers, smaller men, in different turbans, were 
already smashing down our barricades, and clearing a 
road, and from the west, the Palace side, a tremendous 
rifle and machine-gun fire was dusting endlessly. I 
rushed into the British Legation through the canal open- 
cut, and here they were, piles and piles of Indian troops, 
standing and lying about and waving and talking. A 
British general and his staff were seated at a little table 
that had been dragged out, and were now drinking as 
if they, too, had been burned dry with thirst. Around 
all our people were crowding a confused mass of 
marines, sailors, volunteers, Ministers every one. 
Many of the women were crying and patting the sweat- 
ing soldiery that never ceased streaming in. People 
you had not seen for weeks, who might have, indeed, 
been dead a hundred times without your being any 
the wiser, appeared now for the first time from the 
rooms in which they had been hidden and acted hys- 
terically. They were pleased to rush about and fetch 
water and begin to tell their experiences. All that 
day, I was told, these hidden ones had taken a sudden 
interest in the hospital; had roused themselves from 
their lethargy and fright, because the end was coming. 
Now . . . 

As we stood about, twisting our fingers and cheering, 
and trying to find something sensible to say or to do, 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 

there was a rush of people towards the lines connecting 
with the American Legation and the Tartar Wall. This 
caused another tremendous outburst of cheering and 
counter-cheering, and led by C , the American Min- 
ister, columns of American infantry in khaki suits and 
slouch hats came pressing in. In they came more and 
more men, until the open squares were choking with 
them. These men were more dog-tired than the Indian 
troops, and their uniforms were stained and clotted with 
the dust and sweat flung on them by the rapid advance. 
Soon there was such confusion and excitement that all 
order was lost, until the Americans began filing out 
again, and the native troops were pushed to the northern 
line of defences. In the turmoil and delight everything 
had been temporarily forgotten, but the growing roar of 
rifles had at length called attention to the fact that there 
might be more fierce fighting. Every minute added to 
the din, and soon the ceaseless patter of sound showed 
machine-guns were firing like fury. Somebody called 
out to me that there was a fine sight to be seen from 
the Tartar Wall, for those who did not mind a few 
more bullets; and, enticed by the storm of sound that 
rose ever higher and higher, I ran hastily through our 
lines towards the city bastions. Every street and lane 
from the Ch'ien Men Gate was now choked with troops 
of the relieving column, all British and American, as far 
as I could see, and already the pioneers attached to each 
battalion were levelling our rude defences to the ground 
in order to facilitate the passage of the guns and trans- 
port waggons. . . . Strange cries smote one's ears all 
the cursing of armed men, whose discipline has been loos- 
ened by days of strain and the impossibility of manoeuv- 
ring. One word struck me and clung to me again; 



300 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

everybody among the Indian troops was crying it: 
"C hullo f chullO) chullo" they were calling. 
The general advance, which had been from the outer 
city, as soon as the news had been brought through that 
a way to the Legations had been opened, had thrown 
the various units into an immense confusion. Infantry, 
cavalry, artillery, and the fighting trains, were all mixed 
in a terrible tangle. Some had come forward so rapidly, 
in their eagerness not to be left out of it all, that they 
had passed in under the walls as soon as the gates had 
been burst open, and had now got jammed into our nar- 
row streets and were unable to move. Just under the 
ramp of the Tartar Wall I came on some Indian cavalry 
about thirty or forty troopers covered with mud and 
dirt, and led by a single British officer. As soon as the 
latter caught sight of me, he shouted an angry question 

as to what all this firing meant, and how in h he 

could get out of this into the open. - . . He rained his 
questions at me like the others had done, never waiting 
for an answer. The firing, in all truth, had increased 
enormously, and now rang out with a most tremendous 
roar. It always came from over there to the northwest, 
round about the Palace entrances. Evidently Chinese 
troops were holding all the Palace gates in great force, 
and for some reason wished to keep the relief 
columns at bay at all costs until nightfall. I yelled some- 
thing of this to my disconsolate cavalry officer, and sug- 
gested that he should follow me up the wall and see for 
himself. I knew nothing. "Cavalry can't climb a wall," 
he furiously replied as I rushed up above, and as I 
climbed higher that voice followed me in gusts which 
became fainter and fainter, "Cavalry can't climb a walll 
cavalry can't climb a wall 1" Then the road blotted him 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 301 

and his voice completely out and a swelling scene was be- 
fore me. 

For up there I soon understood. A mass of Indian 
infantry, with some machine-guns, had established them- 
selves for hundreds of yards along this commanding 
height, among the old Chinese barricades, and were now 
firing as fast as they could down into the distant Palace 
enclosures. Overhead bullets were passing in continuous 
streams, and crouching low in an angle of the buttresses 
lay a number of wounded men. Of the enemy, however, 
there was no sign to be seen; that he was firing back 
more and more quickly and desperately was certain. All 
these bullets . . . 

As I stood and looked, suddenly the horrid bark of the 
modern high-velocity field-gun began down below in our 
lines, and the word passed along that a British battery 
had succeeded in getting through the jam, and was open- 
ing on the enemy from just outside the Legations. The 
barking went on very rapidly for a few minutes, and then 
ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The cause was not 
long to seek; an infantry advance had followed, for 
without any warning swarms of Chinese riflemen began 
running out from the nests of ruined Chinese houses a 
few hundred yards to the rear of our old lines. They 
came out in rapid rushes just as flights of startled spar- 
rows dart over the ground, and, although very distant, 
from the commanding height of the Tartar Wall they 
offered a splendid mark. The rifles rattled at them as 
hard as possible, but the practice was as poor as ever. 
Of the first batch a dozen fell and began crawling and 
staggering away ; but the next lot, although they ran and 
halted at first like dazed men under the sleet of nickel, 
rapidly became more cunning. All fell as if by some 



302 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

sudden signal on the ground, and crawling and jump- 
ing forward, they soon managed to push through with- 
out losing a single man, and immediately after this there 
was a droll incident such as only occurs at such times as 
these. 

These bunches of men had ceased falling back In their 
sudden rout, and the firing of our men was being concen- 
trated on some distant walls flanking the Palace en- 
closures, when a solitary Chinese rifleman, who had evi- 
dently been forgotten in the turmoil, trotted peacefully 
out. Then, seeing he was almost in the hands of his 
enemies, he ran like a hunted deer straight across a vast 
open, which lies directly in front of the Dynastic Gate 
never seeking cover, but running like a madman in the 
open. It was wonderful. 

A roar went up from our whole line when he was seen, 
but the infantry did not attempt to bring him down. 
A single machine-gun started rapping at him. . . . The 
man ran faster and faster as the swish of bullets hurtled 
around him, until his legs were twinkling so rapidly that 
he seemed to be fairly flying. The machine-gun went on 
rapping and clanging ever quicker as it followed him up, 
and it seemed at length impossible that he should get 
through. With a natural impulse, everybody's attention 
became concentrated on this fugitive: would he reach 
cover in safety? The answer came almost before one 
had thought the question, for with sudden disgust the 
machine-gun stopped dead; the man ran a few seconds 
longer, and then with a last bound he had disappeared 
a tiny dot of blue and red flicking vaguely away behind 
some wall. Instinctively, then, some one began laugh- 
ing ; the next man took it up, and soon a roar of hoarse- 
throated laughter came from the hundreds of Indian 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF SOS 

soldiery who had witnessed the scene. It was like a scene 
in a theatre from that height, and I remember that this 
laughter of free men resounded in my ears for a long 
time the laughter of free men who have never been en- 
slaved in bricks. It came from straight off the chest, 
without any nervous nasal twanging or sudden 
stopping. . . . 

Soon after this the firing dropped and dwindled away 
to nothing, as if by common consent. Everybody was 
dog-tired, and as night fell both sides felt that noth- 
ing could be gained or materially changed until another 
day had dawned. I wandered round for the last time. 
Our lines, so carefully and painfully built up during 
those long never-ending weeks, had crumbled to pieces 
in half as many hours. The barricades and trenches ob- 
structing the streets had been thrown all in a lump and 
sent to join the huge litter which surrounded them. 
There was hardly a sentry or a picquet to be seen, only a 
hundred of little camp-fires twinkling and twinkling 
everywhere. Such battalions and units as had pushed in 
had bivouacked exactly where they had halted. Far 
away under the Tartar Wall, on the long, sandy stretches, 
there were little wood fires blazing at regular intervals, 
with countless dots moving around. From a hundred 
other places there came that confused murmur which 
speaks of masses of men and animals. There were faint 
cries, hoarse calls, and orders, with always a vague 
undercurrent trembling in the air. For the time being, 
they were only British and American troops not a 
soldier of a single other nationality had been seen. As 
the hours went, other people, whose troops had not come 
In, began making excuses, and pretending that their gen- 
erals were very wise in acting as they had done. There 



304 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

were all sorts of theories. Some said that they were 
securing all the gates of the city, and capturing the 
Court, and seeing to very important things. It was the 
political situation of three months ago being suddenly 
reborn, reincarnated, by all these people, before we had 
even breathed the air of freedom. It was for this that 
we had been rescued by the main body of the troops: 
merely because had we been all killed and all recent 
Peking history made an utter blank, there would 
have been a terrible gulf which no protocols could 
bridge. It would have meant an end, an absolute 
end, such as governments and their distinguished ser- 
vants do not really love. We were mere puppets, 
whose rescue would set everything merrily dancing 
again marionettes made the sport of mad events. 
We had merely saved diplomacy from an impossible 
situation. . . . 

As I stood there in the night, thinking of these things, 
and trying to escape from people with theories, a faint 
cheering arose, a hurrahing which somehow had but lit- 
tle vigour. I knew what it meant; the ground was being 
noisily cleared right up to the Palace walls, to make sure 
that none of the enemy were lurking in the ruins, and 
that the play could begin merrily on the morrow. After 
that cheering came a few dull explosions, the blowing-up 
of a few unnecessary walls, and then all was dead quiet 
again, excepting for the faint stirring of the soldiery 
encamped around us, which never ceased. There was 
not a volley, not a shot* It was all over, this siege, 
everything was finished. 

With a growing blackness and distress in my heart, 
which I could not explain, and sought in vain to dis- 
guise, I wandered about. I wanted some more move- 



HOW I SAW THE RELIEF 30.5 

ment some fresh distraction to tear my attention away 
from gloomy thoughts. 

Near the battered Hotel de Pekin officers who had 
strayed from their commands and who were hungry had 
already gathered, and were paying in gold for anything 
they could buy. Luckily, there were a few cases of 
champagne left and a few tins of potted things, which 
could now be tranquilly sold. I found some French uni- 
forms. Some officers had at last come in from the 
French commander, saying that at daylight the French 
columns would march in. At present they were too ex- 
hausted to move. 

All these men, seated at the tables, were noisily discuss- 
ing the relief. I learned how it had been effected and 
the moves of the few preceding days. They said that 
the Russians had attempted to steal a march on the 
Japanese on the night of the I3th, in order to force 
the Eastern gates, and reach the Imperial city and the 
Empress Dowager before any one else. That had 
upset the whole plan of attack, and there had then 
simply been a mad rush, every one going as hard 
as possible, and trusting to Providence to pull them 
through. 

Most of the officers at the tables soon became highly 
elated- That is the way when your stomach has been 
fed on hard rations and you have had fourteen days of 
the sun. They then all began shouting and singing and 
not talking so much. But still they were all devilishly 
keen to know about the siege, and who had fought best, 
and who had been killed. 

I left them in what remains of a little barricaded and 
fortified hotel disputing away in rather a foolish fashion, 
because they were more or less inebriate and the sun had 



306 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

burned them badly. And speeding to my cache > I drew 
out my two blankets and my waterproof. While I had 
been forgetting other things, I had learned two ,new 
things how to sleep and how to shoot and now since 
there was no more need to practise the one, I would do 
the other. 



PART III - THE SACK 

I 
THE PALACE 

1 6th August, 1900. 



The next morning (which was only yesterday!) I 
awoke in much the same strange despondency. Around 
me, as the grey light stole softly into my lean-to, every- 
thing was absolutely quiet. It was the same in every way 
as it had been the morning after the last terrible night; 
and yet that was already so long ago ! Almost mechani- 
cally, I searched the breast pocket of my soil-worn shirt 
for the previous day's orders, so as to see about picquet 
posting; then I remembered suddenly, with a curious 
heart-sinking, that it was all over, finished, completed. 
... It was so strange that it should be so that every- 
thing should have come so suddenly to an end. After 
all those experiences, to be lying on the ground like 
some tramp in Europe, without a thing to one's name, 
was to be merely grotesque and incongruous. Yet it 
was necessary to become accustomed immediately to the 
idea that one belonged to the ordinary world, where 
one would not be distinguished from one's fellow; 
where everything was quiet and orderly. . . . And 
I was separated from this by such a mighty gulf. I 
knew so many things now. What! was I no longer to 
experience that supreme delight of shooting and being 



308 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

shot at of that unending excitement? Oh! was it 
really over ? . . . 

I got up, and shook myself disconsolately, retied what 
remained of a neckcloth, and then looked in disgust at 
my boots. My boots ! Two and a half months' work 
and sleep in them my only pair had not improved 
their appearance. Yet I had not even suspected that be- 
fore; the evil fruit of relief had made my nakedness 
clear. . . . 

Alongside the whole post of ten men was still peace- 
fully slumbering regulars and volunteers heaped impar- 
tially together. Poor devils ! Each one, after the enor- 
mous excitement of the relief, had come back mechani- 
cally to his accustomed place, because this strange life of 
ours, imposed by the discipline of events, has become a 
second nature, which we scarcely know how to shake off. 
Like tired dogs, we still creep into our holes. The 
youngest were moaning and tossing, as they have done 
every night for weeks past shaking off sleep like a 
harmful narcotic, because the poison of fighting is too 
strong for most blood in these degenerate days. What 
sounds have I not heard during the past two months 
what sighs, what gasps, what groans, what muttered 
protests ! When men lie asleep, their imaginations be- 
tray their secret thoughts. . . . 

Day had not broken properly before the murmur and 
movements of the night before rose again. This time, 
as I looked around me, they were more marked as if 
the relieving forces had become half accustomed to their 
strange surroundings, and were acting with the freedom 
of familiarity. There were bugle-calls and trumpet- 
calls, the neighing and whinnying of horses, the rumble 
of heavy waggons, calls and cries. . . . But hidden by 



THE PALACE 309 

the high walls and the barricades, nothing could be seen. 
We got something to eat, and, wishing to explore, I 
marched down to the dry canal-bed, jumped in, and 
made for the Water-Gate, through which the first men 
had come. In a few steps I was outside the Tartar 
Wall, for the first time for nearly three long months. 
At last there was something to be seen. Far along here, 
there were nothing but bivouacs of soldiery moving un- 
easily like ants suddenly disturbed, and as I tramped 
through the sand towards the great Ch'ien Men Gate I 
could see columns of other men, already in movement, 
though day had just come, winding in and out from the 
outer Chinese city. Thick pillars of smoke, that hung 
dully in the morning air, were rising in the distance as if 
fire had been set to many buildings ; but apart from these 
marching troops there was not a living soul to be seen. 
The ruins and the houses had become mere landmarks 
and the city a veritable desert. 

I wandered about listlessly and exchanged small talk 
disconsolately with numbers of people. Nobody knew 
what was going to happen, but everybody was trying to 
learn from somebody else. The wildest rumours were 
circulating. The Russians and Japanese had disap- 
peared through the Eastern Gates of the city, and the 
gossip was that each, in trying to steal a march on the 
other, had knocked up against large bodies of Chinese 
troops, who, still retaining their discipline, had stood 
their ground and inflicted heavy losses on the rivals. 
But whether this was true or not, there was, for the time 
being, no means of knowing. I thought of my last 
rifle-shots of the siege at those endless white and black 
dots, which had suddenly debouched on that long, dusty 
street, and held my tongue. Idly we waited to see what 



310 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

was going to happen. After so many climaxes one's 
imagination totally failed. 

It was still very early in the morning when, without 
any warning, gallopers came suddenly from the Ameri- 
can headquarters and set all the soldiery in motion. I 
remember that it seemed only a few minutes before the 
American infantry had become massed all round the 
southern entrances to the Palace, while with a quickness 
which came as an odd surprise to me after the delibera- 
tion of the siege field-guns suddenly opened on the Im- 
perial Gates. A number of shells were pitched against 
the huge iron-clamped entrances at a range of a few 
hundred yards with a horrid coughing, and presently, 
yielding to this bombardment, with a crash the first line 
had been beaten to the ground. I understood then why 
the powerful American Catlings had been kept playing 
on the fringe of walls and roofs beyond; for as the 
infantry charged forward in some confusion, with their 
cheering and bugling filling the air, the dusting Chinese 
fire, which we knew so well, rang out with an unending 
rattle and hissing. Thousands of riflemen had been 
silently lying inside the Palace enclosures ever since the 
previous afternoon waiting for this opportunity. It was 
the last act. Well, it had come. . . . 

The Chinese fire was partially effective, for as I ran 
forward through the burst and bent gates, panting as if 
my heart would break, a trickle of wounded American 
soldiers came slowly filing out. Some were hobbling, 
unsupported, with pale faces, and some were being 
carried quite motionless. On the ground of this first 
vast enclosure, which was hundreds and hundreds of 
yards long and entirely paved with stone, were a num- 
ber of Chinese dead men of some resolution, who had 



THE PALACE 311 

met the charge In the open and died like soldiers. That, 
indeed, had been our own experience. Even with the 
ambiguous orders which must have been given in every 
command ranged against us, there were always men 
who could not be restrained, but charged right up to our 
bayonets. . . . Now as I ran forward firing was going 
on just as heavily, and the ugly rush and swish of bullets 
filled the air with war's rude music. It seemed curious 
to me that every one should be out in the open with no 
cover; after a siege one has queer ideas. 

The bursting of this first set of gates meant very little, 
as I personally knew full well, for immediately beyond 
was a far more powerful line, with immense pink walls 
heaving straight up into the air. The Tartar conquerors, 
who had designed this Palace, had with good purpose 
made their Imperial residence a last citadel in the huge 
city of Peking a citadel which could be easily defended 
to the death in the old days even when the enemy had 
seized all the outer walls, for without powerful cannon 
the place was impregnable. On the sky-line of this great 
outer wall Chinese riflemen, with immense audacity, 
still remained, and as I ran for cover rifles were quickly 
and furiously discharged at me. . . . Presently the 
American guns came rapidly forward, but their com- 
manders were wary, and did not seem to like to risk them 
too close. There was a short lull, while immense scaling 
ladders, made by the Americans for attacking the city 
walls in case the relief had failed to get in any other 
way, were rushed up. The idea was evidently to storm 
the walls and batter in the gates, line upon line, until the 
Imperial residences were reached and the inmost square 
taken. It might take many hours if there was much 
resistance. The area to be covered was immense. To 



312 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

the north a faint booming proclaimed that other forces, 
perhaps the Russians and the Japanese still in rivalry, 
were at work on this huge Forbidden City, racing once 
more to see that neither got the advantage of the other. 
. . . All this meant slow work without startling de- 
velopments. Everybody was moving very deliberately, 
as if time was of no value. A new idea came into my 
head. It was impossible to cover such distances con- 
tinually on foot without becoming exhausted. Already 
I was tired out. I must seize a mount somewhere before 
it was too late. I must go back. 

Trotting quickly, I reached the Legation area to find 
that the scene had changed. The ruined streets were 
once again filled with troops. The transport and fight- 
ing trains of a number of Indian regiments, which had 
spent the night somewhere in the outer Chinese city, had 
evidently been hurriedly pushed forward at daylight to 
be ready for any eventualities. Ambulance corps and 
some very heavy artillery were mixed with all these 
moving men and kicking animals in hopeless confusion, 
and rude shouts and curses filled the air as all tried to 
push forward. Among these countless animals and their 
jostling drivers it was almost impossible to fight one's 
way; but with a struggle I reached the dry canal, and, 
once more jumping down, I had a road to myself. I 
went straight along it. 

Under the Tartar Wall, as I climbed again to the 
ground-level, I met the head of fresh columns of men. 
This time they were white troops French Infanterie 
Coloniale, in dusty blue suits of torn and discoloured 
Nankeen. There must have been thousands of them, 
for after some delay they got into movement, and, en- 
veloped in thick clouds of dust, these solid companies of 



THE PALACE SIS 

blue uniforms, crowned with dirty-white helmets, started 
filing past me in an endless stream. The officers were 
riding up and down the line, calling on the men to exert 
themselves, and to hurry, hurry, hurry. But the rank 
and file were pitifully exhausted, and their white, drawn 
faces spoke only of the fever-haunted swamps of 
Tonkin, whence they had been summoned to participate 
in this frantic march on the capital. They had always 
been behind, I heard, and had only been hurried up by 
constant forced marching, which left the men mutinous 
and valueless. Once again they were being hurried not 
to be too late. . . . 

I only lost these troops to find myself crushed in by 
long lines of mountain artillery carried on mules, and led 
by strange-looking Annamites. In a thin line they 
stretched away until I could only divine how many there 
were. These batteries, however, were not going for- 
ward, and to my surprise I found the guns being sud- 
denly loaded and hauled to the top of the Tartar Wall 
up one of the ramparts which had been our salvation. 
This was a new development, and in my interest, for- 
getting my pony, I ran up, too. 

Up there I found a mass of people, mostly comprising 
those who had been spectators rather than actors in the 
siege. I remember being seized with strange feelings 
when I saw their little air of derision and their sneers as 
they looked down towards the Palace in pleasurable 
anticipation. They imagined, these self-satisfied people 
who had done so little to defend themselves, that a day 
of reckoning had at last come when they would be able 
to do as they liked towards this detestable Palace, which 
had given them so many unhappy hours. It would all 
be destroyed, burned. Little did they know 1 



314 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

Soon enough these small French batteries of light guns 
came into action, and sent a stream of little shells into 
the Palace enclosures a couple of thousand yards away. 
The majority pitched on the gaudy roofs of Imperial 
pavilions far inside the Palace grounds, bursting into 
pretty little fleecy clouds, and starting small smouldering 
fires that suddenly died down before they had done much 
damage. But a number fell short, and swept enclosures 
where I knew American soldiery had already penetrated. 
I drew my breath, but said nothing. . . . 

The view from here was perfect. The sun had risen 
and was shining brightly. Directly below lay the ruined 
Legations, with their rude fortifications and thousands 
of surrounding native houses levelled flat to the ground; 
but beyond, for many miles, stretched the vast city of 
Peking, dead silent, excepting for these now accustomed 
sounds of war, and half hidden by myriads of trees,' 
which did not allow one to see clearly what was taking 
place. The Palace, with its immense walls, its yellow 
roofs, and its vast open places, lay mysteriously quiet, 
too, while this punishment was meted out on it. You 
could not understand what was going on. To the very- 
far north a heavy cloud, which had already attracted my 
attention, now rose blacker and blacker, until it spread 
like a pall on the bright sky. Cossacks or Japanese, who 
by this time had swept over the entire ground, must have 
met with resistance ; they were burning and sacking, and 
a huge conflagration had been started. 

For a quarter of an hour and more I watched in an idle, 
tired curiosity, which I could not explain, those little 
French shells bursting far away and falling short, and 
presently, as I expected, the inevitable happened. A 
young American officer rode up and began shouting 



THE PALACE 315 

angrily up to the Wall I knew exactly what he meant, 
but everybody was so interested that he remained un- 
noticed. And so, presently, more furious than ever, he 
dismounted and rushed up red with rage. He was so 
angry that he was funny. He wanted to know if the 

commander of these d pop-guns knew what he was 

firing at, and whether he could not see the United States 
army in full occupation of the bombarded points. He 
swore and he cursed and he gesticulated, until finally 
cease fire was sounded and the guns were ordered down. 

All the Frenchmen were furious, and I saw P , the 

Minister, go down in company with the gaunt-looking 
Spanish doyen, vowing vengeance and declaiming loudly 
that if they were stopped everybody must be stopped 
too. There must be no favouring; that they would not 
have. I understood, then, why the mountain guns had 
come so quickly into action ; they were gaining time for 
that exhausted colonial infantry to get round to some 
convenient spot and begin a separate attack. It was each 
one for himself. 

Somehow I understood now that it was a useless time 
for ceremony, and that one must act just as one wished. 
So, finding some ponies tethered to a post below, without 
a word I mounted one and rode rapidly back to the 
Palace. For an instant, as I passed the great Ch'ien 
Men Gate, I could see Indian troops filing out in their 
hundreds, and forcing a path through the press of in- 
coming transport and guns. Evidently the British com- 
manders considered that the thing was over; that it was 
no use going on. Already they had had enough of our 
Peking methods. . . . 

I must have ridden nearly a mile straight through the 
vast enclosures of the Palace, past lines and lines of 



316 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

American infantry lying on the ground, with the reserve 
artillery trains halted under cover of high walls, before 
I saw ahead of me a set of gates which were still un- 
broken. General firing had quite ceased now, and except- 
ing for an occasional shot coming from some distant 
corner, there was no sound. The bulk of the American 
infantry had not even been advanced as far as I had 
come. A skirmishing line, evidently formed only a 
short time before my arrival, was still lying on the 
ground; but the men were laughing and smoking, and 
the officers had withdrawn out of the heat of the sun 
into a side building, where they were examining a map. 
The scaling-ladders were left behind. I was soon told 
that orders had come direct from headquarters to stop 
the attack absolutely, and not to advance an inch further 
on any consideration. The inner courts of the Palace and 
the residences of the Emperor and the Empress Dow- 
ager could not be approached until concerted action had 
been taken up by all the Allies. I laughed it was the 
hydra-headed diplomacy of Peking raising its head de- 
fiantly less than eighteen hours after the first soldiers 
had rushed in. . , . 

The massive set of gates in front of me were those just 
without a most beautiful marble courtyard. That I 
knew from the rude Chinese maps of the Forbidden City 
which are everywhere sold; if this boundary were passed 
the Imperial Palaces, with all their treasures, would be 
reached. I thought, with my mouth watering a little, 
although I had no actual desire for riches, of General 
Montauban, created Comte de Palikao, because in the 
1860 expedition, when the famous Summer Palace was 
so ruthlessly sacked, he had taken all the most splendid 
black pearls he could find and had carried them back to 



THE PALACE 317 

the Empress Eugenie as a little offering. If one could 
only get past this boundary and the protocol had not 
stepped in! 

Moved a little by such thoughts, I advanced on the 
central gate, and peered through a chink near which an 
infantryman was standing alert, rifle in hand. There 
were the marble courtyards, the beautiful yellow dec- 
orated roofs. I could see them clearly, and then , . . 
a rifle from the other side was discharged almost In my 
ear; a bullet hissed past a few inches from my head, too ; 
and I had a flitting vision of a Chinese soldier in the 
sky-blue tunic of the Palace Guards darting back on the 
other side. There must still be numbers of soldiery 
waiting sullenly beyond for the expected advance; they 
would only fall back in rapid flight as our men rushed in, 
just as they had been doing from the beginning. I dis- 
charged my own revolver rather aimlessly through the 
chink in the hope that something would happen, but all 
became quiet again. Everything was finished here. 

But although the advance down this grand approach 
to the inner halls and Palaces had been stayed, nothing 
had been said about piercing through the great outer en- 
closures to the right and left ; and, catching my pony, I 
rode round a corner where a broad avenue led to another 
set of entrances. Perhaps here would be something. 
All along I found a sprinkling of American infantry- 
men, in their sweaty and dust-covered khaki suits, lying 
down and fanning themselves with anything that came 
handy, and sending rude jests at one another. Old- 
fashioned Chinese jingals, gaudy Banners, and even 
Manchu long-bows, were scattered on the ground in 
enormous confusion. The Palace Guards belonging to 
the old Manchu levies had evidently been surprised here 



318 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

by the advance of the main body of American troops 
through the Dynastic Gate, and had fled panic-stricken, 
abandoning their antiquated arms and accoutrements as 
they ran. The soldiery who had been doing all the 
fighting and firing must have been the more modern field 
forces engaged in the last attacks on the Legations, or 
those driven in on Peking by the rout on the Tientsin 
road. Still, there was nothing worth seeing, and the 
miniature Tartar towers crowning the angles of the 
great pink walls looked down in contempt, as if conscious 
that no enemy could hurt them. I must push along. 

I trotted quickly, exchanging chaff with the Americans, 
who called out to me with curious oaths that they had 

had no breakfast, and wanted to know why in h this 

fun was being stopped, and that they were being left 
thdre. Alas ! I could give them no news. I only swore 
back in the same playful way. At the end of an immense 
wall I came on the last of this soldiery a corporal's 
guard, squatting round a small wicket-gate and looking 
very tired. They told me that they were still being shot 
at from somewhere on the inside ; and even as I paused 
and looked a curious pot-pourri of missiles grounded 
angrily against the gate-top. There were modern bul- 
lets, old iron shot, and two arrows a strange assortment. 
Somehow those quivering arrows, shot from over the 
immense pink walls, and attempting to vent their old- 
fashioned wrath on the insolent invaders who had pene- 
trated where never before an enemy's foot had trod, 
made us all stare and remain amazed. It seemed so 
curious and impossible so out of date. Then one of 
the Americans ran into a guard-house, bringing out with 
him a huge Manchu bow, which he had secreted there as 
his plunder. He plucked with difficulty the arrows out 



THE PALACE 319 

of the woodwork in which they had been plunged, and 
with an immense twanging of catgut sent them high into 
the air, until they were suddenly lost to our sight in the 
far beyond. An answer was not long in coming. In less 
than half a minute a crackle of firearms broke harshly 
on the air, and a fresh covey of bullets whistled high 
overhead. The enemy was plainly still on the alert in- 
side the last enclosures, where no one might penetrate. 
What a pity it had been stopped. . . . 

I rode off, bearing away some flags and swords, and, 
making due east, at last reached some broad avenues 
near the Eastern Gates of this Forbidden City. . . . Fresh 
masses of moving men now appeared. The main body 
of French infantry I had seen a couple of hours before 
were being marched in here, while smaller bodies were 
tramping off to the north, and sappers were blowing 
down walls to clear their way. As I ambled along, seek- 
ing a way out, a couple of officers galloped up to me, and, 
touching their helmets, begged me in the name of good- 
ness to tell them what was being done. What were the 
general orders, they wanted to know. I explained to 
them that nobody knew anything; that as far as I could 
see, the Americans had stopped attacking for good; that 
the Indian troops were already marching out into the 
Chinese city ; and that nothing more was to be done, as 
the other columns had been completely lost touch with. 

"Toujours cette confusion^ toujours pas d'ordres" the 
French officers angrily commented, and in a few words 
they told me rapidly how from the very start at Tientsin 
it had been like this, each column racing against the 
others, while they openly pretended to co-operate ; with 
every one jealous and discontented. Where were the 
Russians, the Italians, and the Germans? I answered 



320 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

that I had not the slightest idea, and that nobody knew, 
or appeared to care at all. I personally was going on ; 
I had had enough of it. ... 

To my surprise, as I turned to go, I found that the men 
of the Infanterie Coloniale, in their dirty-blue suits, had 
pushed up as close as possible to overhear what was 
being said, and now surrounded us. One private indeed 
boldly asked the officers whether they were going to be 
able to enter the Palace at once; and when he got an 
angry negative, he and his comrades took to such curs- 
ing and swearing, that it seemed incredible that this was 
a disciplined army. The men wanted to know why they 
had been dragged forward like animals in this burning 
heat and stifling dust, day after day, until they could 
walk no longer, if they were to have no reward if there 
was to be nothing to take in this cursed country. In the 
hot air the sullen complaints of these sweating men rang 
out brutally. They wanted to loot; to break through 
all locked doors and work their wills on everything. 
Otherwise, why had they been brought? These men 
knew the history of 1 860. 

I turned in disgust, and went slowly back the way I 
had come, only to find all unchanged. . . . Everything 
had obviously been stopped by explicit orders ; there was 
no doubt about that now; diplomacy, afraid to allow 
any one to enter the inner Palaces for fear of what 
would follow, and how much one Power might triumph 
over another, had called an absolute halt. But no one 
was taking any chances, or placing too much confidence 
in the assurances of the dear Allies. That was plain 1 
For, even as I had almost finished trotting up to the 
Dynastic Gate, I came on a large body of Italian sailors, 
who had evidently just entered Peking, and who, march- 



THE PALACE 321 

ing with the quick step of the Bersaglieri, were being led 

by C , the lank Secretary of Legation, right up to 

the last line of gates. They were in an enormous hurry, 

and looked about them with eager eyes. C and 

some others called out to me as I passed, and wanted to 
know whether it was true that the Americans and the 
French had already got in, and had sacked half the 
place, and whether fire had been set to the buildings. I 
answered with no compunction that it appeared to be so, 
and that the Russians and the Japanese had burst in also 
through the north, and had actually fired on the others 
coming from the south, thinking they were Manchu 
soldiery. ... I told them that they were too late ; that 
every point of importance had already been seized. That 
set them moving faster than ever. It was truly comical 
and ridiculous. Beyond this there were more troops of 
other nationalities that had just arrived, and were now 
looking about them in bewilderment. No wonder. 
With no orders and no maps, and surrounded by these 
immense ruins, and still more immense squares, they 
could not understand it at all. What confusion I 

As I paused, debating what I should do, once again 
something else speedily attracted my attention. This 
time big groups of American soldiery, whom I had not 
observed before, were gathering like swarms of flies at 
the door of one of the Chinese guard-houses, which line 
the enclosing walls of the Palace. They were evidently 
much excited by some discovery. Wishing to learn what 
it was, I dismounted and pushed in. Grovelling on the 
ground lay an elderly Chinese, whose peculiar aspect and 
general demeanour made it clear what he was. He was 
a Palace eunuch, left here by some strange luck. The 
man was in a paroxysm of fear, and, pointing into the 



322 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

guard-house behind him, he was beseeching the soldiery 
with words and gestures not to treat him as those in- 
side had been handled. Through the open door I could 
see a confused mass of dead bodies men who had been 
bayonetted to death in the early morning and from a 
rafter hung a miserable wretch, who had destroyed him- 
self in his agony to escape the terror of cold steel. As 
the details became clear, the scene was hideous. Never, 
indeed, shall I forget that horrid little vignette of war 
those dozens upon dozens of curious soldier faces 
framed in slouch hats only half understanding; the im- 
ploring eunuch on the ground, the huddled mass of 
slaughtered men swimming in their blood in the shadow 
behind; that thick smell of murder and sudden death 
rising and stinking in the hot air ; and the last cruel note 
of that Chinese figure, with a shriek of agony and fear 
petrified on the features, swinging in long, loose clothes 
from the rafter above. In the bright sunlight and the 
sudden silence which had come over everything, there 
was a peculiar menace in all this which chilled one. . . . 
Perhaps the eunuch had divined from my different dress 
that he would be better understood by me than by these 
rough crowds of rank and file who crushed him in ; for, 
as I gazed, he had thrown himself at my feet, with mut- 
tered words and a constant begging and imploring. I 
noticed then that the unfortunate man could not walk, 
could only drag himself like a beaten dog. The reason 
soon transpired : both his legs had been broken by some 
mad jump which he must have essayed in his agony to 
escape. I quieted the man's fears as best I could, and, 
tearing a sheet from a note-book, wrote a description of 
him, so that a field hospital would dress him. Then, 
anxious to learn something concrete with this vapour of 



THE PALACE 323 

haziness and confusion blinding us all, I began ques- 
tioning him quickly about the Palace, the numbers of 
soldiery within, the strength of the inner enclosures, and 
the residences of the Emperor and the Empress Dow- 
ager. The man answered me willingly enough, but 
suddenly said it was all no use, that we were too late. 
The Emperor, the Empress Dowager, indeed, the whole 
Court, had disappeared had fled, was gone. , . . 

Gone! 

On my life, I could scarcely believe my ears. After all 
these weeks of confusion and plotting, had the Empress 
Dowager and her whole Court fled at the very last 
moment, and, by so doing, escaped all possibility of ven- 
geance ? Was it really so ? One might have known that 
this loose-jointed relief expedition could accomplish 
nothing, would do everything wrong; and still we were 
acting as if everything was in our hands. Then, sud- 
denly, I fined down my questions, and imperatively 
asked when the Court had fled ; exactly at what hour and 
in what direction. 

At first I could get no reliable answer, but, pushing my 
questions and assuming a threatening attitude, the shat- 
tered eunuch at length collapsed, and whiningly in- 
formed me that the flight had taken place at nine o'clock 
exactly the previous night, and had been carried out by 
way of the Northern Gates of the city. They had left 
five hours after the relief had come in! I calculated 
quickly. That meant twenty hours' start at four miles 
an hour for they would travel frantically night and 
day eighty miles! It was hopeless; they were safe 
through the first mountain-passes, and if they had 
soldiery with them, as was more than certain, these had 
most certainly been dropped at the formidable barriers 



324. INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

which nature has interposed just forty miles beyond Pe- 
king. The mountain-passes would protect them. There 
could be no vengeance exacted; no retribution could 
overtake the real authors of this debacle. Nothing. It 
was a strange end. . . . 

Disconsolately I turned and rode back into the Lega- 
tion lines, feeling as if an immense misfortune had come. 
Here I met finally some Japanese cavalry and some Cos- 
sacks. After being actually in Peking twenty-four 
hours, they had at length formed junction with their 
Legations. The cavalrymen were trotting up and down, 
and trying to discover their own people. Neither did 
they understand it all. 

I communicated the news I had learned speedily 
enough to all people of importance whom I could find, 
told it to them all frantically; but it aroused no interest, 
even hardly any comment. Once or twice there was a 
start of surprise, and then the old attitude of indiffer- 
ence. A species of torpor seems to have come over every 
one as a crushing anti-climax after the various climaxes 
of the terrible weeks. No one cares, excepting that the 

siege is finished. C , of the British Legation, who 

has practically directed its policy for years (indeed, ever 
since it has been in the present hands) , told me that when 
the British commander had come in, he had simply 
placed himself at the disposal of the Legation, and had 
said that his orders were concerned only with the relief. 
He was not to attempt anything else; to do nothing 
more, absolutely nothing. . . . 

Later in the afternoon, at a Ministerial meeting, con- 
vened in haste, the Ministers decided that as they did not 
know what was going to happen to them or what policy 
their governments proposed to adopt, in the absence of 



THE PALACE 325 

instructions they could take no steps about anything. Of 
course, every one of importance will be transferred else- 
where, and probably be sent to South America, or the 
Balkan States, or possibly Athens. The confirmation of 
the news that the Empress Dowager and the Court had 
fled concerned them less than the dread possibilities 
which the field telegraphs bring. The wires have 
already been stretched into Peking, and messages would 
have to come through soon. . . . 

That evening, as dusk fell, and I was idly watching 
some English sappers blowing an entrance from the 
canal street through the pink Palace walls, so that a pri- 
vate right of way into this precious area could be had 
right where the twin-cannon were fired at us for so many 
weeks, a sound of a rude French song being chanted 
made me turn round. I saw then that it was a soldier 
of the Infanterie Coloniale in his faded blue suit of 
Nankeen, staggering along with his rifle slung across 
his back and, a big gunny-sack on his shoulder. He 
approached, singing lustily in a drunken sort of way, 
and reeling more and more, until, as he tried to 
step over the ruins of a brick barricade, he at last 
tripped and fell heavily to the ground. The English 
sappers watched him curiously for a few moments as 
he lay moving drunkenly on the ground, unable to rise, 
but no one offered to help him, or even stepped forward, 
until one soldier, who had been looking fixedly at some- 
thing on the ground, said suddenly to his mates in a 
hoarse whisper, "Silver! Silver 1" He spoke in an 
extraordinary way. 

I stepped forward at these words to see. It was true. 
The sack had been split open by the fall, and on the 
ground now scattered about lay big half-moons of silver 



326 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

sycee, as it is called. The sappers took a cautious look 
around, saw that all was quiet and only myself there; 
and then the six of them, seized with the same idea, 
went quietly forward and plundered the fallen French- 
man of his loot as he lay. Each man stuffed as many 
of those lumps as he could carry into his shirt or tunic. 
Then they helped the fallen drunkard to his feet, 
handed him the fraction of his treasure which remained, 
and pushed him roughly away. The last I noticed of 
this curious scene was this marauder staggering into the 
night, and calling faintly at intervals, as he realised his 
loss, "Sacres voleurs! Sacres voleurs anglais!" Then 
I made off too. It was the first open looting I had seen, 
I shall always remember absolutely how curiously it im- 
pressed me. It seemed very strange. 



II 

THE SACK 

1 8th August, 1900. 



After these events and the curious entry of our re- 
lieving troops, nothing came as a surprise to me. I can 
still remember as if it had only occurred ten seconds ago 
how, after witnessing those English sappers calmly strip 
that drunken French marauder of his gains, I came back 
into the broken Legation Street to find that a whole com- 
pany of savage-looking Indian troops Baluchis they 
were had found their way in the dark into a compound 
filled with women-converts who had gone through the 
siege with us, and that these black soldiery were en- 
gaged, amidst cries and protests, in plucking from their 
victims' very heads any small silver hair-pins and orna- 
ments which the women possessed. Trying to shield 
them as best she could was a lady missionary. She 
wielded at intervals a thick stick, and tried to beat the 
marauders away. But these rough Indian soldiers, im- 
mense fellows, with great heads of hair which escaped 
beneath their turbans, merely laughed, and carelessly 
warding off this rain of impotent blows, went calmly on 
with their trifling plundering. Some also tried to caress 
the women and drag them away. . . . Then the lady 
missionary began to weep in a quiet and hopeless way, 
because she was really courageous and only entirely over- 
strung. At this a curious spasm of rage suddenly seized 



328 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

me, and taking out my revolver, I pushed it into one 
fellow's face, and told him in plain English, which he 
did not understand, that if he did not disgorge I would 
blow out his brains on the spot. I remember I pushed 
my short barrel right into his face, and held it there 
grimly, with my finger on the trigger. That at least he 
understood. There was a moment of suspense, during 
which I had ample time to realise that I would be bayon- 
etted and shot to pieces by the others if I carried out 
my threat. It was ugly; I did not like it. At the last 
moment, fortunately, my fellow relented, and throwing 
sullenly what he had taken to the ground, he shouldered 
his rifle and left the place. The others followed with 
mutterings and grumbles, and the women being now 
safe, began barricading the entrance of their house 
against other marauders. They were green-white with 
fear. They feared these Indian troops. . . . 
That same night, very late, a transport corps, com- 
posed of Japanese coolies, in figured blue coats, belong- 
ing to some British regiment, came in hauling a 
multitude of little carts ; and within a few minutes these 
men were offering for sale hundreds of rolls of splendid 
silks, which they had gathered on their way through the 
city. You could get them for nothing. Some one who 
had some gold in his pocket got an enormous mass for a 
hundred francs. The next day he was offered ten times 
the amount he had paid. In the dark he had purchased 
priceless fabrics from the Hangchow looms, which fetch 
anything in Europe. Great quantities of things were 
offered for sale after that as quickly as they could be 
dragged from haversacks and knapsacks. Everybody 
had things for sale. We heard then that everything had 
been looted by the troops from the sea right up to 



THE SACK 329 

Peking ; that all the men had got badly out of hand in 
the Tientsin native city, which had been picked as clean 
as a bone; and that hundreds of terrible outrages had 
come to light. Every village on the line of march from 
Tientsin had been treated in the same way. Perhaps 
it was because there had been so little fighting that there 
had been so much looting. 

The very next morning a decision was arrived at to 
send away all non-combatants in the Legation lines as 
quickly as possible from such scenes to let them breathe 
an air uncontaminated by such ruin and devastation and 
rotting corpses to escape from this cursed bondage of 
brick lines. There would be a caravan formed down to 
Tungchow, which is fifteen miles away, and then river 
transport. To provide conveyances for these fifteen 
miles of road, people would have to sally forth and help 
themselves; near the Legations there was absolutely 
nothing left. We must hustle for ourselves. . . . The 
same men who have done all the work would have to 
do this. 

I shall never forget the renewed sense of freedom when 
I went out the next morning with my men and some 
others I picked up, this time boldly striking into the 
rich quarter in the eastern suburbs of the Tartar city 
and leaving the garrisoned area far behind. It was 
something to ride out without having to take cover 
at every turning. . . . The first part of our route 
was the same as that of my scouting expedition made so 
few days before. But this time we went forward so 
quickly to the main streets beyond the white ruins of the 
Austrian Legation that it seemed incredible that we 
should have wasted so much time covering the ground 
before. That shows what danger means. I alone was 



SSO INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

mounted, riding the old pony I had commandeered the 
day before; my men were on foot and ran pantingly 
alongside* We were so keen ! 

For half a mile or so we met occasional detachments 
of European troops, an odd enough pot-pourri of armed 
men such as few people ever witness. They made a 
curious picture, did this soldiery in the deserted streets, 
for every detachment was loaded with pickings from 
Chinese houses, and some German mounted infantry, in 
addition to the great bundles strapped to their saddles, 
were driving in front of them a mixed herd of cattle, 
sheep and extra ponies which they had collected on the 
way. The men were in excellent humour, and jested 
and cursed as they hastened along, and in a thick cloud 
of dust raised by all these hoofs they finally disappeared 
round a corner. It was only when they were gone that I 
realised how silent and deserted the streets had become. 
Not a soul afoot, not a door ajar, not a dog nothing. 
It might have been a city of the dead. After all the 
roar of rifle and cannon which had dulled the hearing of 
one's ears for so many days there was something awe- 
some, unearthly and disconcerting in this terrified silence. 
What had happened to all the inhabitants? 

I had ridden forward slowly for a quarter of an hour 
or so, glancing keenly at the barred entrances which 
frowned on the great street, when suddenly I missed my 
men. My pony had carried me along the raised high- 
way the riding and driving road, which is separated 
from the sidewalks by huge open drains. My men had 
been across these drains, keeping close to the houses so 
that they could soon discover some sign of life. Then 
they had disappeared. That is all I could remember. 
I rode back, rather alarmed and shouting lustily. My 



THE SACK 331 

voice raised echoes in the deserted thoroughfare, which 
brought vague flickers of faces to unexpected chinks and 
cracks in the doors, telling me that this desert of a city 
was really inhabited by a race made panic-stricken 
prisoners in their own houses by the sudden entry of 
avenging European troops. There were really hosts of 
people watching and listening in fear, and ready to flee 
over back walls as soon as any danger became evident. 
That explained to me a great deal. I began to under- 
stand. Then suddenly, as I looked, there were several 
rifle shots, a scuffle and some shouting, and as I galloped 
back in a sweat of apprehension I saw one of my men 
emerge from the huge porte-cochere of a native inn 
mounted on a black mule. My men were coolly at work. 
They were providing themselves with a necessary con- 
venience for moving about freely over the immense 
distances. In the courtyard of the inn two dead men lay, 
one with his head half blown off, the second with a 
gaping wound in his chest. My remaining servants 
were harnessing mules to carts, and each, in addition, 
had a pony, ready saddled to receive him, tied to an iron 
ring in the wall. I angrily questioned them about the 
shots, and pointed to the ghastly remains on the ground; 
but they, nothing abashed, as angrily answered me, say- 
ing that the men had resisted and had to be killed. 
Then, as I was not satisfied, and continued muttering at 
them and fiercely threatening punishment, one of them 
went to the door of a gate-house, and flinging it back, 
bade me look in. That was a sight 1 It was full of 
great masses of arms and all sorts of soldiers' and Box- 
ers' clothing ; and tied up in bundles of blue cloth were 
stacks of booty, consisting of furs and silks, all made 
ready to be carried away. This was evidently one of 



332 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

the many district headquarters which the Boxers had 
established everywhere. My men had known it, because 
these things become speedily known to natives. They 
had acted* After all, this was a vengeance which was 
overtaking everybody. What could I do ? . . . 

I said nothing then, and somewhat gloomily watched 
them proceed. With utmost coolness they finished har- 
nessing the carts; drove them with curses to a point near 
the gate-house, and silently loaded all those bundles of 
booty into them, strapping the swords and rifles on in 
stacks behind. It was evidently to be a clean sweep, with 
nothing left. Then, when they had made everything 
ready, one of them disappeared for a short time into a 
back courtyard, and after some fresh scuffling, reap- 
peared, driving in front of him three men in torn cloth- 
ing and with dishevelled hair, who had been hiding all 
the while, and were trembling like aspen leaves now that 
they had been caught. My men, without undue explana- 
tions, told them that they had to drive, one to each cart, 
and that if one tried to escape all would be shot down. 
With protestations, the captives swore that they would 
obey; only let them escape with their lives; they were in- 
nocent. . . . Then in a body we sallied forth, this time 
a fully-equipped and well-mounted body of marauders. 
It was a fate from which it was impossible to escape 
my men had such decision left when every person in 
authority was already drifting. . . . 

Fitted out in this wise, we now rattled along the streets 
with faster speed, and the clanking cart-wheels, awaking 
louder and louder echoes which sounded curiously indis- 
creet in these deserted streets, made heads bob from 
doorways and windows with greater and greater fre- 
quency. Down in the side alleys, now that we were a 



THE SACK 333 

mile or two away from our lines, people might be even 
seen standing in frightened groups, as if debating what 
was going to happen; these melted silently away as 
soon as we were spied. But finding that they were 
disregarded, and that no rifles cracked off at them as 
they half expected, forthwith the groups formed again, 
and men even came out into the main street and fol- 
lowed us a little way, calling half-heartedly to the 
drivers to know if there was any news. . . . The terrible 
quiet which had spread over the city after the Allies had 
burst in from two or three quarters seemed indeed inex- 
plicable ; such troops as had passed had gone hurriedly 
westwards towards the Palace. This quarter could 
scarcely have been touched. . . . 

Our little cavalcade was clattering along midst these 
strange surroundings, when my attention was attracted 
by the similarity of the occupation which now appeared 
to be engaging numbers of people on the side streets* 
The occupation was plainly a doubtful one, since as soon 
as we were seen every one fled indoors. All had been 
standing scraping away at the door-posts with any instru- 
ments which came handy; and one could hear this 
scratching and screeching distinctly in the distance as 
one approached. It was extraordinary. Determined 
to solve this new mystery, on an inspiration I suddenly 
drove my old pony full tilt up an alleyway before the 
rest of my men had come in view, and, dashing quickly 
forward, secured one old man before he could escape. 
Once again I understood: all these people had been 
scraping off little diamond-shaped pieces of red paper 
pasted on their door-posts ;-^nd on these papers were 
written a number of characters, which proclaimed the 
adherence of all the inmates to the tenets of the Boxers. 



334 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

In their few weeks' reign, this Chinese sansculottism had 
succeeded in imposing its will on all. Every one was im- 
plicated; the whole city had been in their hands; it had 
been an enormous plot. . . . 

Inside the house I had singled out, we found only old 
women and young boys the rest had all fled. Spread 
on the ground were pieces of white cloth on which flags 
were being rudely fashioned Japanese, English, French 
and some others. They were changing their colours, all 
these people, as fast as they could that is what they 
were doing ; and farther on, as we came to more remote 
quarters, we found these protecting insignia already fly- 
ing boldly from every house. Everybody wished to be 
friends. But my men exhorted me to proceed quickly 
and to escape from these districts, which, they alleged, 
were still full of Boxers and disbanded soldiery; and 
yielding to their entreaties, we again dashed onwards 
quicker and quicker. For half an hour and more we had, 
indeed, lost sight of every friendly face. 

The succession of streets we passed was endless. There 
were nothing but these deserted main thoroughfares, and 
the scuttling people on the side alleys, and in absolute 
silence we reached an immense street running due north 
and south. To my surprise, although everything was 
now quite quiet, dead Chinese soldiers lay around here 
in some numbers. There were both infantry and cavalry 
flung headlong on the ground as they had fled. One 
big fellow, carrying a banner, had been toppled over, 
pony and all, as he rode away, and now lay in pictur- 
esque confusion, half thrown down the steep slope of 
the raised driving road, with his tragedy painted clearly 
as a picture. In the bright sunshine, with all absolutely 
quiet and peaceful around, it seemed impossible that 



THE SACK C,?,5 

these men should have met with a violent death such a 
short while ago amid a roar of sound. It was funny, 
curious, inexplicable. . . . For my men, however, there 
were no such thoughts; they climbed off their ponies, 
and, whipping out knives or bayonets, they slit the 
bandoliers and pouches from every dead soldier and 
threw them into the carts. They had become in this 
short time good campaigners; you can never have too 
much ammunition. 

The big Shantung recruit, whom I had come across so 
oddly only three days before, was now once again plainly 
excited and smelled quarry. I remembered, then, that 
there was nothing very strange in the decisive actions of 
all my followers ; they were being led by this man and 
told exactly what to do. He had, after all, been outside 
all the time, and knew what had been going on and 
where now to strike hard ! Quickly, without speaking a 
word, he pushed ahead, and arriving at the big gates of 
another inn, loudly called on some one inside to open. 
He could not have got any very satisfactory answer, for 
the next thing I saw was that he had sprung like light- 
ning from his stolen pony, had thrown his rifle to the 
ground, and was attacking a latticed window with an old 
bayonet he had been carrying in his hand. With half 
a dozen furious blows he sent the woodwork into splin- 
ters, and, springing up with a lithe, tiger-like jump, he 
clambered through the gap, big man as he was, with 
surprising agility. Then there was a dead silence for a 
few seconds and we waited in suspense. But presently 
oaths and protests came from far back and drew nearer 
and nearer, until I knew that the some one who had 
refused to answer had been duly secured. The gates 
themselves were finally flung open, and I saw that an 



3J6 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

oldish man of immense stature had been driven to do 
this work a man who, so far from being afraid, was 
only held in check by a loaded revolver being kept 
steadily against his back. The Shantung man's face had 
become devilish with rage, and I could see that he was 
slowly working himself up into that Chinese frenzy 
which is such madness and bodes no good to any one. 
I was at a loss to understand this scene. 

Our captured carts were driven in and the gates 
securely shut ; and then, driving his captive still in front 
of him, my man led us, with a rapidity which showed 
that he knew every inch of his ground, to a big building 
at the side. Then it was my turn to understand and to 
stare. Within the building a big altar had been clumsily 
made of wooden boards and draped with blood-red 
cloth; and lining the wall behind it was a row of hide- 
ously-painted wooden Buddhas. There were sticks of 
incense, too, with inscriptions written in the same man- 
ner as those we had seen being scraped so feverishly 
from the door-posts a few minutes ago. Red sashes 
and rusty swords lay on the ground also. Here there 
could be absolutely no mistake; it was a headquarters 
of that evil cult which had brought such ruin and de- 
struction in its train. The Boxers had been in full force 
here. 

The Shantung man, for reasons I could not yet un- 
ravel and did not care to learn, had become absolutely 
livid with rage now, and the others, who were all Catho- 
lics, shared his fury. They said that here converts had 
been tortured to death killed by being slit into small 
pieces and then burned. Everybody knew it. With 
spasmodic gestures they called on the captive to fling to 
the ground the whole altar, to smash his idols into a thou- 



THE SACK 337 

sand pieces, to destroy everything. But the man, reso- 
lute even in captivity, sullenly refused. Then, with a 
movement of uncontrollable rage, one man seized a long 
pole, and in a dozen blows had broken everything to 
atoms. Idols, red cloth, incense sticks, bowls of sacri- 
ficial rice and swords lay in a shapeless heap. And with 
ugly kicks my men ground the ruin into yet smaller 
pieces. Somehow it made me wince. It was a brutal 
sight; to treat gods, even if they be false, in this 
wise. . . . 

As I looked and wondered, scarcely daring to interfere, 
the Shantung man had pushed his face, after the native 
manner, close into that of his enemy and was muttering 
taunts at him, which were hissed like the fury of a snake 
in anger. This could not last my man was carrying it 
too far. It was so. With a cry his victim suddenly 
closed on him, seized him insanely by the throat and 
hair, tried to tear him to the ground. I remember I had 
just a vision of those brown wrestling bodies half-bared 
by the fury of their clutches, and I could hear the 
quickly drawn pants which came at a supreme moment, 
when there was a sharp report, which sounded a little 
muffled, a piece of plaster flew out of the wall behind the 
two, and some biting smoke bit one's nostrils. Before 
I realised what had been done, the giant Boxer was stag- 
gering back; then he tottered and fell on his knees, talk- 
ing strangely to himself, with his voice sliding up and 
down as if it now refused control. Some blood welled 
up to his lips and trickled out; he shook a bit, and then 
he crashed finally down. There he lay among the ruins 
of his faith dead, stone-dead, killed outright. The 
Shantung man stood over him with a smoking revolver 
in his hand. I remembered then that he had never 



338 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

taken his hand from the weapon. He had been waiting 
for this it was an old score, properly paid. . . . 

I had had enough, however, of this mode of settling up 
under cover of my protection, and angrily I intimated 
that if there was any more shooting I should draw too, 
and pistol every man. I was proceeding to add to these 
remarks, and was even becoming eloquent as my right- 
eous feelings welled up, when a thunder of blows sud- 
denly resounded on the outer gates, and made me real- 
ise with a start that this was no place for abstract moral- 
ity. Strayed so far from safety, we had taken our lives 
into our own hands; at any moment we might have to 
fight once more desperately against superior numbers. 
Perhaps in the end we would totter over in the same way 
as the unfortunate who had strayed across our path. . . . 
Indeed, it was no time for morality. . . . 

The thunder on the gates continued, and then with a 
crash they came open suddenly, and a party of French 
soldiers, with fixed bayonets and their uniforms in great 
disorder, rushed in on us. They did not see me at first, 
and, charging down on our captured carters, merely 
yelled violently to them, "Rendezvous f Rendezvous /" 
Before we could move or disclose ourselves, they had 
seized some of the carts and were making preparations 
to drive them off without a second's delay. But then I 
made up my mind in a flash, too, and becoming des- 
perate, I threw down the gauntlet. The contagion had 
caught me. Running at them with my drawn revolver, 
I, too, shouted, <e Rendezvous! Rendezvous!" and 
with my men following me, we interposed ourselves 
between the marauders and their only line of retreat. 
There was no time for thinking or for explanations; 
somebody would have to give way or else there would 



THE SACK 339 

be shooting. In a second, a fresh desperate situation 
had arisen. 

The marauders, astonished at my sudden appearance 
and the manner in which their razzia had been inter- 
rupted, stood debating in loud voices what they should 
do, and calling me names. Twice they turned as if they 
would shoot me down; then one of them made up the 
minds of the others by declaring that their object was 
not to fight, but to pillage these few carts did not mat- 
ter. With lowering faces they speedily withdrew, curs- 
ing me with calm insolence as they reached the gates. 
Outside we saw that they had a number of other carts 
and mules, all loaded up with huge bundles ; and reeling 
round these captured things were other drunken soldiers, 
whose disordered clothing and leering faces proclaimed 
that they had given themselves solely up to the wildest 
orgies. To-day there would be no quarter. . . . 

We waited until the clamour of these men had died 
away in the distance, and then, with a strange double 
grin, the big Shantung man turned silently back into an 
inner courtyard, and pointed me out another building. 
I did not understand, for the very stables were empty 
and deserted here, as if everything had been already 
looted or carried away into safety. There appeared to 
be not a cart, not a piece of harness, not a stick of furni- 
ture, nothing left at all. The big Shantung man still 
grinned, however, and quickly made for the building 
he had pointed out. The door was open, as if there was 
nothing to conceal, and only enormous bins made of 
bamboo matting half blocked the entrance. But with a 
few rough efforts my men sent these soon flying; then 
there was a mighty stamping and neighing of alarm, 
and as I looked in I laughed from sheer surprise. The 



340 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

house was full of ponies, mules, and even donkeys, which 
had been driven in and tethered together tightly behind 
barricades of tables and chairs. Now seeing us, they 
stood there all eyes and ears, and with prolonged whin- 
nies and gruntings plainly welcomed this diversion. 
With glee we drove them out and counted them up 
ten more animals! 

It was with disgust, however, that I remembered that 
there was neither harness nor carts ; but to my surprise, 
now that the animals had been discovered, my men were 
running busily around searching every likely hiding- 
place of the huge straggling courtyards. Like rats, they 
ran into every corner, turned over everything, pulled up 
loose floorings, and presently the body of a cart was 
found hidden in a loft in the most cunning way. But it 
was only the body of a cart; there were no wheels. And 
yet the wheels could not be far off. Five more minutes' 
search had discovered them suspended down a well, un- 
der a bucket, which itself contained a mass of harness; 
and then in every impossible place we discovered the inn 
property cleverly stored away. In the end, we had all 
the animals hitched up, and the carts themselves full of 
fodder. Then, by employing the same tactics as before, 
just outside drivers were discovered and induced to fol- 
low us, and now, with a heavy caravan to protect against 
all comers, we sallied forth. This time we would have 
our work cut out. 

An hour and more had elapsed since we had been on 
the open streets, and it being near midday, and every- 
thing still quiet, we were surprised to see people of the 
lower classes moving cautiously about on the main 
streets, but disappearing quickly at the mere sight of 
other people whose business they could not divine. 



THE SACK 341 

That, too, was soon explained; for, seeing one rap- 
scallion trying to run away with a sack over his back, 
we discharged a rifle at him. Straightway the man 
stopped running, fell on his knees, and whiningly said 
that he had been permitted to take what he was carrying 
by honourable foreign soldiery whom he had been 
allowed to assist. The bundle contained only silks and 
clothes; with a kick we let him go. Plainly the plot 
was thickening on all sides, and it was becoming more 
and more dangerous to be abroad. Seized with a new 
thought, I stopped the whole caravan, and giving orders 
to that effect, we soon had every driver we had so sum- 
marily impressed securely strapped to his cart with heavy 
rope. At least, if we had to cut our way back I had 
secured that our carts could not be stampeded with ease. 
The drivers would make them go on; it would be easier 
to run forward than to turn back. 

Then, as if we realised the danger of the road, we 
began driving frantically. We wished to carry the darts 
into safety. It was not long before we saw in the dis- 
tance many groups of people clustering round a big 
building surrounded by high walls. That made me 
nervous, for the groups formed and dissolved con- 
tinually, as if they were in doubt, and seeking to gain 
something which was bent on resisting. But no sooner 
had they seen this than my men began laughing coarsely, 
and exclaimed in the vernacular that it was a pawn-shop 
which the common people were trying to loot. Of 
course, it was certain that every pawn-shop would go 
sooner or later; but the sight of an actual attack in prog- 
ress seemed strange while the populace was still so terror- 
stricken. To our further surprise, on coming up we found 
that a number of marauders and stragglers belonging to 



342 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

a variety of European corps had been halted by this 
sight ; and as we drew nearer we found a private of the 
French Infanterie Coloniale groaning on the ground, 
with a ghastly wound in his leg. No one was attending 
to him they were too busy with their own business, and 
had we not tied him roughly with some cloth and rope, 
he might have lain there bleeding to death. We carried 
the man to the carts and decided we would take him to 
safety. But as we made preparations to start a warning 
shout in French bade us not to pass in front of the pawn- 
shop gates, and, looking up, I found that several other 
French soldiers, together with some Indians and Anna- 
mites, had climbed the roofs of adjacent houses, and 
with their rifles thrown out in front of them, were 
attempting to get a shot at people inside. The place 
was evidently securely held and refused to surrender. 
Grouped all round, and armed with choppers, bars of 
iron and long poles, the crowd of native rapscallions 
waited in a grim silence for the denouement. It was an 
extraordinary scene. Everything and every one was so 
silent. I decided to stop and see it through. Such 
things never happen twice in a lifetime. 

A shot fired from the gate at an incautious man, who 
darted across the street, showed that the defenders were 
both vigilant and desperate, and knew what to expect at 
the hands of the foreign soldiery and the populace once 
they poured in. Spurred by this sound, the French 
soldiers on the roofs pushed down cautiously nearer and 
nearer to their prey; but presently, when I thought that 
they had almost won their way, a shower of bricks and 
heavy stones was sent at them by unseen hands with 
such savageness and skill that another man was placed 
hors-de-combat, and came down groaning with his head 



THE SACK 343 

split. His, however, was only a scalp wound, and, dis- 
covering that a bandage left him practically none the 
worse, he took his place with savage curses at a corner 
just beyond the main gate, fixing his bayonet in grim 
preparation for the end. Decidedly there would be no 
quarter when that end came. 

But there appeared to be, nevertheless, no means of 
bringing about the desired climax. The defenders 
showed their alertness by occasional shots that grated 
harshly on the still air, and the attack could make no 
progress. I wondered what would happen. Yet it did not 
last long, for Providence was at work. Two Cos- 
sacks came cantering along the street, bearing some 
message from a Russian command ; and although warn- 
ing shouts were sent at them, too, as they approached, 
they paid no heed, but rode carelessly by. As they came 
abreast of the main gate a sudden volley, which made 
their mounts swerve so badly that less adept horsemen 
would have been flung heavily to the ground, greeted 
them and sent them careering wildly for a few yards. 
But here were men who understood this kind of warfare. 
First, it is true, they were a little angry as they pulled 
up, unslung their carbines and shot home cartridges 
as if they would act like the rest. . . . But then, when 
they saw how things were, they grinned in some delight, 
and finally dismounting and driving their beasts with 
shouts off the road, they prepared to join the fray. 
With renewed interest I watched them go to work. 

A little inspection showed the newcomers that the 
pawn-shop was too difficult to capture by direct assault 
unless special means were adopted, for such places being 
constructed with a view to resisting the attacks of 
robbers even In peaceful times, are nearly always little 



344 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

citadels in themselves. They are the people's banks. 
For some time the two new arrivals walked stealthily 
around, with their carbines in their hands, peering here 
and there, and trying to find a weak spot. Then one 
man said something to the other, and they disappeared 
into a neighbouring house, only to emerge almost im- 
mediately with some bundles of straw and some wood. 
To their minds it was evidently the only thing to be 
done; they were going to set fire! Before there was 
time to protest, the Cossacks had piled their fuel against 
an angle of the gate-house, just where they could not be 
shot at, and with a puff the whole thing was soon ablaze. 
The scattered groups of native rapscallions on the street, 
when they saw what had been done, gave a subdued 
howl of despair, and cried aloud that the whole block of 
buildings would catch fire, and that everything in them 
would be destroyed. These confident looters had already 
imagined that the pawn-shop was theirs to dispose of 
after the honourable foreign soldiery had had their fill I 

The Cossacks, however, were men of many ideas, and 
paid not the slightest attention to all this tumult beyond 
striking two or three of the nearest men. They watched 
the blaze with cunning little eyes, and as the short flames 
shot across the gate, driven by the wind, and raised 
blinding clouds of smoke, one of them said it was all 
right and that we would be soon inside. On the roofs 
the French soldiers and their companions lay silently 
watching in amazement the antics of the two dismounted 
horsemen, and from the shouts and curses which now 
came from the pawn-shop compound itself, it was plain 
that this method of attack would be productive of some 
result. It was becoming more and more interesting. 

My attention was distracted for an instant by seeing 



THE SACK 345 

one of the Cossacks climb up beside two French soldiers 
and explain to them gravely, with a violent pantomime 
of his hands, what they should do in a moment or two. 
When I turned, it was to find that the second had driven 
with boot-kicks and some swinging blows from his 
loaded carbine a number of the street people towards 
some of those long poles which can always be found 
stacked on the Peking main streets. My own men, 
understanding now what was to be done, ran forward, 
too, to help, and in the twinkling of an eye two long 
poles had been borne forward and laid in position across 
the highway. In spite of all modern progress, much the 
same ways of attack have still to be adopted in siege 
work. Then, with some further pantomime explaining 
how it would be impossible to see or hurt them under 
cover of that smoke, the Cossacks induced the crowd to 
raise the poles again. This time everybody's blood was 
up, and, urging one another on with short staccato shouts, 
dozens of willing men, stripped to the waist, jumped 
forward, and the timbers were driven with a tremendous 
impetus against the gates. As they crashed against the 
wood, and half splintered the 'stout entrances, a suc- 
cession of shots rang out from the roofs, and I saw the 
French marauders sliding rapidly down and fall out of 
sight into the compound. The defence had been broken 
down at least, at this point. It seemed quite over. 

It was the work of a moment to hack the gates 
aside, and through the choking fumes and charred re- 
mains the whole infuriated crowd now poured. The 
little blaze, having met with much brick and stone, was 
smouldering out, and so long as it was not kindled anew 
there was no danger of the fire spreading. 

Like a rush of muddy waters, the sweating, brown- 



346 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

backed men, now mad with a lust for pillage, tore 
through the first courtyard. I was borne along with 
them perforce like a piece of flotsam on a raging flood- 
tide; there was no turning back. Besides, such things 
do not happen every day. . . . 
The Frenchmen and their companions had already dis- 
appeared inside, and on the ground lay two of the pawn- 
shop men, dead or dying, swimming silently in their own 
blood. Beyond this there was a first hall, empty and 
devoid of furniture, excepting for immensely long 
wooden counters; and as I jumped through to the ware- 
houses beyond, I saw dimly in the darkened room those 
dozens of city rapscallions whom we had unleashed hurl 
themselves on to the counters and literally tear them 
to pieces. They knew! Thousands of strings of cash 
were laid bare by this action, and with the quickness of 
lightning hundreds of furious hands tore and snatched, 
while hot voices smote the air in snarls and gasps. They 
wanted this money would lose their lives for it. In an 
instant the pawn-shop hall had been turned into a 
sulphurous saturnalia horrid to witness. That gave you 
a grim idea of mob violence. I rushed to escape it. . . .; 
In the warehouses beyond I found the Frenchmen and 
the first Cossack, who had directed the carrying of the 
place by assault, breaking open with rude jests chests and 
boxes, and flinging to the ground the contents of count- 
less shelves. They cared nothing for the things they 
found; they were hunting for treasure. With curses as 
their disappointment deepened, and always hurling more 
and more shelves and cupboards to the ground, they soon 
reduced room after room to a confusion such as I have 
never before witnessed. Rich silks and costly furs, boxes 
of trinkets, embroideries, women's head-dresses, and 



THE SACK 347 

hundreds of other things were flung to the ground and 
trampled under foot into shapeless masses in a few 
moments, raising a choking dust which cut one's breath- 
ing. They wanted only treasure, these men, gold if 
possible, something which possessed an instant value for 
them something whose very touch spelled fortune. 
Nothing else. In some amazement I watched this 
frantic scene. From the outer courtyards came the same 
roar of excitement as the street crowd fought with one 
another for possession of all that wealth in cash; sepa- 
rated from one another by only a few yards, European 
marauders and Chinese vagabonds, I reflected, were 
acting in much the same way. I followed the French- 
men and their companions into the last great rooms, all 
dust-laden and filled with boxes without number, which 
were carefully ticketed and stacked one upon another. 
Some were prized open with bayonets; some had their 
pigskin covers beaten through by butt-end blows; but 
whatever their treatment, there were always the same 
furs and silks. There was no treasure. 

My men had now fought their way through the outer 
crowd, and rapidly flinging out coat after coat, sug- 
gested that sables were at least worth the taking and the 
keeping. They selected two or three score of these coats 
of precious skins, beautiful long Chinese robes reaching 
to the feet, and tumbling them into emptied trunks, we 
went out as soon as possible. We had had enough. 
The explanation of why the crowd had not rushed 
through was in front of us. The remaining Cossack 
had seated himself, carbine in hand, on the stone ledge 
at the entrance to the inner courtyards and held every 
one in check; just beyond hundreds and hundreds of 
men stripped to the waist, glistening in their sweat and 



348 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

trembling In their excitement, were waiting for the signal 
which would let them go. I noticed that now there were 
old women, too. The whole quarter was coming as fast 
as it could. . . . 

The Cossack grinned when he saw me appear, and 
looked with a shrug of his shoulders at the sables. To 
him these were not priceless. Then he explained his 
unconcerned attitude in a single gesture. He pushed a 
hand down into his rough riding boots and pulled out 
one of those Chinese gold bars which look for all the 
world like the conventional yellow finger-biscuits which 
one eats with ice-cream. The rascal had elsewhere come 
across some rich preserve and had his feet loaded with 
gold for he pulled out other bars to show me and he did 
not care for this petty pilfering. Then the Frenchmen 
began coming out, with the Annamites and the Indians, 
each man with a bundle on his back, and the Cossack, 
esteeming his watch ended, got up and stepped back. 
Once again, like bloodhounds, the crowd rushed in, an 
endless stream of men, women, and even children, all 
summoned by the news that the pawn-shop, which was 
their natural enemy, had fallen. They roared past us, 
striking and tearing at one another with insane gestures, 
as if each one feared that he would be too late. Inside 
the scene must have baffled description, for a clamour 
soon rose which showed that it was a battle to the death 
to secure loot at any price. Shrill cries and awful groans 
rose high above the storm of sound, as the desperadoes 
of the city, who were mixed with the more innocent 
common people, struck out with choppers and bar iron 
and mercilessly felled to the ground all who stood in 
their way. With conflicting feelings we struggled out- 
side, and as I mounted my pony, a wretched man covered 



THE SACK 349 

with blood rushed forward, and flinging himself at my 
feet, cried to me sobbingly to save him. He was the 
last of the pawn-shop defenders and was bleeding in a 
dozen places. Him, too, we roughly tied up and saved, 
and telling him to mount a cart and to lie concealed 
inside, at last we moved on again. We were gathering 
odd cargo. 

The day was now waning, for the time had flown 
swiftly with such strange scenes, and people began to 
slink out from side alleys more and more frequently, as 
if they had been waiting for this dusk. Several times 
we passed bands of men armed with swords and knives 
Boxers, without a doubt who calmly watched us ap- 
proach, as if they were debating whether they should 
attack us or not. Once, too, a roll of musketry suddenly 
rang out sharp and clear but a few hundred feet away 
from the high road, only to be succeeded by an icy 
silence more speaking than any sound. We did not 
dare to stray away to inquire what it might be ; the high 
road was our only safety. Even that was doubtful. 
Curious isolated encounters were taking place all over 
the vast city of Peking ; it was now every one for him- 
self, and not even the devil taking care of the hindmost. 
It was no place for innocents. 

At last, by vigorous riding and driving, which caused a 
great clatter and drew forth many leering faces from 
darkened doorways, we debouched into that long main 
street down which I had shot so few days before in such 
an agony of doubt. Hurrying homeward in the same 
direction, we now met bands of our siege converts in 
groups of forty and fifty strong. These men, who had 
come so near to starving during the siege, were having 
their own revenge. They had sallied forth with such 



350 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

arms as they could lay their hands on, and had been 
plundering all day within easy reach of the Legations. 
They had done what they could, and had gathered 
every manner of thing in which they stood most in need. 
Each man had immense bundles tied to his back it was 
the revenge for all they had suffered. They had given 
no quarter either, and before many more hours had gone 
by they would have made up for those long weeks. . . . 
We soon left these groups behind, and with the whole 
cavalcade now going at a hand-gallop, it dawned on our 
companions and beasts which we had so curiously gath- 
ered during the day that we were nearing our destina- 
tion. 

But here the roadway was absolutely deserted, and in 
the dusk I realised that had we been farther from home 
we would almost certainly be ambuscaded by some of the 
many ruffians Boxerism had unloosed on the city. Here 
was a sort of neutral belt. At every turning I half 
expected a volley to greet us; at every door-creak I 
thought there would be some rush of armed men which 
would have been impossible for us to meet without los- 
ing half the convoy. Yet these fancies were not justi- 
fied, for to my immense surprise, at a crossroad I saw 
numbers of women in their curious Manchu head-dress 
standing at a big gateway, all dressed in their best 
clothes. As we passed they caught sight of me, and, 
nothing abashed, began immediately calling to me and 
waving with their arms. This was extraordinary and 
unlooked for. At first I thought that they were only 
courtesans, who had been deprived for so long of all 
custom that they had been rendered desperate, and were 
seeking to inveigle me faute de mieux; but remembering 
that such women are confined to the outer city, I reined 



THE SACK 351 

in my mount, halted the whole caravan, and went slowly 
towards them, half fearing, I confess, some ruse. Yet 
the women greeted me with fresh cries and words. 
There were a full dozen of them of the best class, and 
they explained to me that they had been left, absolutely 
abandoned, two nights before by all the men of the 
household, who, fearing the worst and hearing that the 
way out through the north of the city was still open, 
had seized all the draft and riding animals and ridden 
rapidly away, saying that the women would be spared 
by the foreign soldiery, but that probably every man of 
rank would be killed. No one had molested them so far, 
because this house lay so close to the foreign troops, but 
with so many armed men on the streets, and with the 
pillaging and the murder that was going on, they did not 
know how long they would be spared. They told me 
this quickly in gasps. I paused in doubt to know what 
to answer; it was every one for himself, and the devil 
not even looking after the hindmost, as I have just said. 
But women. ... I must propose something. 
They saw my hesitation, and, women-like, renewed their 
pleading in chorus. I noticed, also, that two or three 
of the older ones grouped themselves close together, 
and, putting down their heads, began rapidly discussing 
in loud whispers, which showed their trepidation. Then 
they called a tall, splendidly built woman, and, telling 
her something in an undertone, pushed her forward 
towards me. Unabashed, she advanced on me with a 
firm step, and laying a white-skinned hand for the 
Manchus can be very white on rny arm, she begged me 
to stop here myself to make this my house for the time 
being to do as I pleased with all of them. . . . After 
all those weeks of privation, that constant rifle-fire, that 



352 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

stench of earth-soiled men, this woman so close seemed 
strange. ... I answered, in greater confusion, that I 
could not yet say whether it was possible for me to stay 
so far away; that there might be trouble; that I would 
see and let them know before the night was far ad- 
vanced. . . . 

Not wholly satisfied and half doubting, they let me 
draw off with their pleadings renewed. Then, as I 
thought something might happen before I could let 
them know, I gave them two rifles from the store we 
had collected, and telling them to bar and bolt their 
gate, showed them how a shot or two would probably 
drive off an attack. We clattered on and lost them in 
the gloom. . . . 

It was almost dark as we re-entered the ruined Lega- 
tion lines and picked our way slowly though the debris 
which still stood stacked on the streets. Fatigue parties 
of many corps were finishing their work of attempting to 
restore some order and cleanliness, and clouds of murky 
dust hung heavily in the air. All round these narrow 
streets there was an atmosphere of exhaustion and dis- 
order, crushed on top of one another, which oppressed 
one so much after the open streets, that an immense 
nostalgia suddenly swept over me. We had had too 
much of it; I was tired and weary of it all. It was 
mean and miserable after the great anti-climax. It was 
like coming back to a soiled dungeon. 

We picked our way right through where two days be- 
fore no vehicles could have passed, and I stabled all the 
animals and carts, and handed them over to where they 
were needed. Then I ordered that our captured things, 
our weapons, and my few last belongings should be 
loaded into one remaining cart, and ordering my men to 



THE SACK 353 

follow, without a word of explanation I started off again, 
I had made up my mind. 

We passed rapidly enough out and again sped in the 
blackening night down the long street just as we had 
returned. Almost too soon we reached that great gate 
on the corner to find it barred and bolted. Somehow 
my heart sank within me at this ; was it too late ? 

But there were cries and a confusion of voices. Some- 
body peered through. Then there was delight. The 
gate was unbarred by weak women's hands, and the soft 
Manchu voice which had first begged me to stop was 
speaking to me again. . . . 

Inside I found the courtyards and the lines of rooms 
which fronted each square were immense and furnished 
with richly carved woodwork; it was a rich house, and 
there was apro fusion of everything which could be wanted 
only no men! We securely bolted and barred the 
main gate, and for safety loopholed a little, because that 
Is an art in which we had become adepts. Then, with 
candles murkily shedding their light, I explored every 
nook and corner to guard against surprise, always with 
that soft voice explaining to me. It was very quiet and 
soft with that atmosphere around ; it was like a narcotic 
when a roar of fever still hangs in one's ears. I became 
more and more content. After all, we had become ab- 
normals; a shade more or less could make no difference. 
. . . That night was a pleasant dream. . . . 



Ill 

THE SACK CONTINUES 

August, 1900. 



To rediscover the ease and luxury of lying down, not 
brute-like, but rnan-like, seemed to me an immense thing. 
I had had my first night's sleep on a bed for nearly three 
months, and I wished never to rise again. I wished 
to be immensely lazy for a long period not to have to 
move or think or act. But that could not be. All sorts 
of marauders were sweeping the city and working their 
wills in a hundred different ways. Half a dozen times, 
as soon as daylight had come, shots had been fired 
through my gateway. European soldiery, who had 
broken away from their corps, and native vagabonds 
and disguised Boxers, who had hidden panic-stricken 
during the first hours after the relief, were now prowling 
about armed from head to foot. The vast city, which 
had been given over for weeks to mad disorders and 
insane Boxerism, was in a receptive condition for this 
final climax. There was no semblance of authority left; 
with troops of many rival nationalities always pouring 
in, and a nominal state of war still existing, with the 
possibility of a Chinese counter-advance taking place, 
how could there be? . . . There was nothing left to 
restrain anybody. . . . 

I thought of these things lying at my ease, and debated 
how long I could stay in that unconcerned attitude. It 



THE SACK CONTINUES 35,5 

was not long. For as I lay, there was a thunder of blows 
somewhere near, and then a crackle of shots, whose 
echoes smote so clean that I knew that firearms w r ere 
pointed in the direction of this house. I jumped up 
without delay. I was not a minute too soon, for as I 
seized my rifle, one of my men ran in and shouted to me 
that foreign cavalrymen had burst in, shooting in the 
air, and were now driving out all the animals and looting 
all the carts as well. Nothing could be done unless I lent 
my leadership. 

Hastily I ran out, feeding a cartridge into my rifle- 
chamber as I rushed. This time I was determined to 
give a lesson and pay back in the same coin. The 
marauders were Cossacks again. 

There were only four of them, however, and when 
they caught sight of me they tried to stampede my mob 
and bolt ingloriously with them. But we were too quick. 
I gave the first man's mount my first cartridge in a fast 
shot, which took the animal well behind the shoulder 
and brought the rider instantly down in a heap to the 
ground. That mixed them up so that before they could 
extricate themselves they were all covered with our rifles 
and the gates tight shut. Then we calmly dragged the 
men off their ponies and kept them in suspense for many 
minutes, debating aloud what to do. Finally we let 
them go after some harsh threatening. The man who 
had lost his mount, nothing abashed, swung himself 
coolly up behind a comrade, with his saddle and bridle 
on his arm, without a comment. And as soon as they 
were in the open street they galloped fast away, as if 
they feared we would shoot them down from behind. 
That showed what was going on elsewhere. . . . 

I knew now what to expect unless we made very ready, 



356 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

for surely a sharp revenge attack would come as soon 
as it was dark. So grimly we set to work, with a return 
of our old fighting feelings, and rapidly fortified the 
main gate against all cavalry raids. We dug a broad 
moat behind the gate, and threw up a respectable barri- 
cade with the earth we had gained. Then we brought 
some timbers and built them in on top with the aid of 
bricks and stones, so as to have a line of loopholes con- 
verging on the entrance. We trained some of the many 
rifles we had picked up in the same direction, and 
strapped them into position, just as the Chinese com- 
mands had done all along their barricades during the 
siege. In this way we made it so that in a few seconds 
a dozen of the enemy could be brought to the ground 
without the defending force showing a finger. That 
would be enough for any Cossacks. . . . 

Before midday we had added a couple of lookout posts 
to the roofs, and then, secure in this new-found strength, 
I determined to go abroad once more to collect supplies 
and food. That decision was materially helped by an 
incident which showed that every one was acting and 
that it was the only way. As we cautiously opened our 
main gate and prepared to sally out, a cart came by, 
accompanied by several men from the Legations on 
horseback, who were much excited. Well might they 
be; they had two of their number inside that cart, both 
shot and bleeding badly from flesh wounds. They had 
been right to the east of the city, they reported, where 
the Russians and Japanese had come in. It was terrible 
there, they said. Nothing but dead people and fires and 
looting. Chinese soldiers had still remained there in 
hiding and were defending some of the bigger buildings 
belonging to Manchu princes. Plunderers, also, were 



THE SACK CONTINUES 357 

everywhere on the road. They advised caution and told 
us not to trust ourselves in the alleyways. They had 
been caught like that, and their servants and horse-boys 
had deserted in a body four miles away immediately fire 
was opened on them from some fortified house. That 
made me all the more determined. I would go and 
be shot, too, if necessary, since it was the order of the 
day, but I made up my mind that it would be no easy job 
to catch me sleeping. Already I understood fully the 
new methods and the new requirements. 

We rode away, stirrup to stirrup, I, a single white man, 
with a dozen doubtful adherents, made savage at the 
idea of loot, as companions, and held to me only by a 
questionable community of interests. Yet what did it 
matter, I thought. One lives only once and dies only 
once. That is elemental truth. So tant pis. 

In our joy at being on those open streets again, with 
never a passer-by or a vehicle to obstruct one's rapid 
passage, we went ahead in a whirlwind of dust. We 
passed street after street with always the same silence 
.about us we had noticed the day before. Everything 
was closed, tight shut; there was not a cat or a dog 
stirring abroad. Near the Legations and the Palace, 
where the fear lay the heaviest, it seemed like a city of 
the dead. 

Yet we knew that there were plenty of living men only 
biding their time and waiting their opportunity. It 
was only night that these people desired ; a good black 
night so that no one could see them flit about. You felt 
in the small of your back as you rode along that ugly 
faces were looking at you from the silent houses, and 
that at any moment shots might ring out suddenly and 
bear you to the ground. But that was merely a prelim- 



358 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

inary feeling. Soon it added zest to the entertainment. 
What, indeed, did it matter? It only made one more 
and more reckless. 

We sped swiftly along, only twice seeing men of any 
sort in several miles of streets. Once they were fellows 
who, on our approach, scuttled so quickly away to hide 
their identity that we could not be sure whether they 
were white or yellow. But once, without concealment, a 
band of mixed European soldiery, in terrible disorder, 
who first wished to fire on us, and then when they saw 
me set up a colourless sort of cheer, appeared suddenly, 
only to disappear. We never paused an instant ; we kept 
straight on. 

As we made our way farther and farther to the east 
and came across rich districts of barricaded shops, signs 
were clear that pillaging had gone on here already with 
insane violence, but by whom or at what time it was im- 
possible to say. Sometimes there were battered-in doors 
and windows, with ugly, swollen corpses stretched near 
by; sometimes the contents of a rich emporium had been 
swept, as if by some strange whirlwind, out on the street 
to litter the whole driving road many inches deep with 
the most heterogeneous things. On the ground, too, 
were dozens of the rude imitation flags which had been 
so frantically made by the terror-stricken populace in 
order to disclaim all association with Boxerism and the 
mad Imperialism being now so summarily swept away. 
Jeering looters had torn these things down and cast them 
in the dirt to show, as a reply, that there was to be no 
quarter if they co^ld help it. These grim notes, limned 
speakingly on everything, made it plain that a movement 
was in the air which could hardly be arrested. It made 
one feel a little insane and intoxicated to see it all ; and 



THE SACK CONTINUES 359 

as one's blood rushed through one's veins, after that long 
captivity, one had, too, the desire to add a little more 
destruction, to break down places and to shoot for the 
amusement of the thing. You could not help it ; it was in 
the air, I say. It was a subtle poison which could not be 
analysed, but which kept on coursing through one's 
veins and heating the blood to fever-pitch. The vast 
open streets needed filling up with noise and rapid move- 
ments, one thought; the inhabitants must be galvanised 
to life again, one felt. . . . 

My men needed every kind of wearing apparel, for 
they had been in rags all through the siege, and as soon 
as possible they showed that they appreciated the situa- 
tion, and did not intend to stand on ceremony. They set 
to work as soon as they saw what they wanted. A huge 
Chinese boot, gaudily painted on a swinging sign-board, 
proclaimed a boot-shop, where in ordinary times they 
could buy every kind of foot-covering. But now it was 
no good attempting such methods. So they tilted 
straight at the shop-door without hesitation, and beating 
a wild rataplan of blows on the wooden shutters, de- 
manded an entry in a roar of voices. Otherwise they 
would shoot, they added. In very few seconds, at this 
clamour, some shuffling steps were heard and trembling 
hands unbarred in haste, fearing a worse fate. We then 
saw two blanched and trembling shopkeepers, whose 
dirtied clothes and dishevelled hair showed that they had 
had days and nights of the most wretched existence. 
Shakingly they asked what we wanted, adding that they 
had not a piece of silver or yet a string of cash left. The 
Boxers had taken everything weeks before; now honour- 
able foreign soldiery were beating them because they 
were so poor. My men did not trouble to answer ; they 



360 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

went to work. They wanted boots and shoes, and 
plenty of them, since there were plenty to take, and so 
they searched and picked and chose. But presently 
one man gave vent to an oath, and then, in his surprise, 
laughed coarsely. He had discovered that there were 
only boot's and shoes for the left foot. There was noth- 
ing for the right foot, not a single boot, not a single 
shoe! Once again they did not trouble to speak, but 
merely pushing fire-pieces against the luckless shop- 
keepers' heads waited in silence. Immediately the men 
broke down anew and began whining more explanations. 
It was true there were no right feet, they said. The 
right feet were over there in a neighbour's shop. That 
shop had all the right feet ; they had only left feet. This 
seemed strange humour. Yet it was a good, if crude, 
device which these cunning shopkeepers had hit on even 
in their distress. For they knew that looters would 
probably not waste time attempting to match shoes in 
such confusion, when so much better things were lying 
near. They hoped at least to save their stock by this 
device ; and it seemed certain that they would. I said not 
a word ; this was a family affair. 

In the end a bargain was struck; two pairs of shoes for 
each man, and the rest to be left untouched. Then the 
right feet appeared soon enough from hidden places, 
and the shopmen were saved from further loss. With 
all the other things the same procedure was adopted 
along this shopman's street. A bargain was struck in 
each case, which saved one side from undue loss and 
'gave the other far less trouble. In this new fashion we 
captured chickens, eggs, sheep, rice, flour, and a dozen 
other necessaries, only taking a quarter of what we 
would have seized otherwise, in return for the help 



THE SACK CONTINUES 361 

given. It was curious shopping, but everybody was 
curious now. What you did not take, somebody would 
seize ten minutes later. 

These occupations were so peaceful and gave so little 
difficulty, that it soon seemed to me as if everything was 
actually settling down quietly in this one corner of the 
city. Yet it was not so. We were only having momen- 
tary luck. For presently soldiers of various nationalities 
began passing in many directions, some returning from 
successful forays, and others just starting out to see what 
they could pick up. And on top of them all came a curi- 
ous young fellow from one of the Legations, galloping 
along on a big white horse he must have just looted. 
He was accompanied by no one. He had been half-mad 
for weeks during the siege and now seemed quite crazy 
as he rode. 

It was he who had again and again volunteered to play 
the part of executioner to all the wretched coolies en- 
gaged in sapping under our lines who had been captured 
from time to time, and whose heads had at once paid 
the last penalty. This man had done it always with a 
shot-gun, and he had seemed to gloat over it ; and in the 
end people had taken a detestation for him, and looked 
upon him for some strange reason as a little unclean. 
Now he was madly excited, and as soon as he saw me he 
called out, in his thick Brussels accent, and made a long 
broken speech, which I shall never forget. 

"Have you seen them?" he said, not pausing for a 
reply. "It is the sight of all others the best of all. 
Hsu Tung, you remember, the Imperial Tutor, who 
wished to make covers for his sedan chair with our hides, 
and who was allowed to escape when we had him tight? 
Well, he is swinging high now from his own rafters, 



362 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

he and his whole household wives, children, concu- 
bines, attendants, every one. There are sixteen of them 
in all sixteen, all swinging from ropes tied on with 
their own hands, and with the chairs on which they stood 
kicked from under them. That they did in their death 
struggles. Everywhere they have acted in the same 
way. They call It hanging, but it is not that ; it is really 
slow strangulation, which lasts for many minutes, be- 
cause at the last moment the victims become afraid and 
try to regain their footholds." 

The man paused a minute and licked his dry lips. To 
me there was something hideous in this story being told 
on that sacked street. His voice sounded a little like 
those Chinese trumpets, whose gurgling notes make one 
think instantly of evil things. Then he went on, more 
furiously than ever: 

"And the wells near the Eastern Gates, have you seen 
them, where all the women and girls have been jumping 
in? They are full of women and young girls quite 
full, because they were afraid of the troops, especially 
of the black troops. The black troops become insane, 
the people say, when they see women. So the women 
killed themselves wherever they heard the guns. Now 
they are hauling up the dead bodies so that the wells will 
not be poisoned. I have seen them take six and seven 
bodies from the same well, all clinging together, and the 
men have tried to kill me because I looked. But I was 
well mounted; I could look as long as I liked, and then 
gallop away so fast that not even their shots could catch 
me. The place is full of dead people, nothing but dead 
people everywhere, and more are dying every minute." 

Then he came up to me and whispered how soldiers 
were behaving after they had outraged women. It was 



THE SACK CONTINUES 363 

impossible to listen. He said that our own inhuman 
soldiery had invited him to stay and see. Yet although 
I swore at the man and told him to go away, I could not 
drive him from me. He wanted to talk and he had 
found some one who had to listen. Indeed, he clung 
to me all the way home, as if he had been at length 
frightened by his own stories and by his imagination. 
Steadily he became more and more curious. He watched 
me eat, he watched me drink, but he would take nothing 
himself. He wanted to go out again. He must have 
movement, he said, and he insisted on riding to Mon- 

seigneur F 's Pei-t'ang Cathedral. He had not been 

there yet, and a curiosity suddenly seized him to see the 
place where others had suffered in the same way as 
ourselves. That reminded me, too, that everybody had 
almost forgotten about this Roman Catholic cathedral, 
forgotten completely because they were now at their 
ease. It had been two whole days before troops were 
even sent there to see that all was well, and even these 
only went because a priest had been killed half way be- 
tween the Legations and the Cathedral. I decided to 
go, too. It was almost a duty to make this pilgrimage. 
So we quickly left again. 

For a few minutes after leaving the occupied area we 
threaded streets with men from the relief columns in full 
view, but soon enough we found ourselves in treacherous 
roadways, all littered with the ruins and the inexpressible 
confusion which come of desultory street-fighting spread 
over long weeks. To me this was a new quarter one 
which I had not been near since the month of May, and 
soon it was equally clear that it was still a very evil 
place. Only yesterday men who had broken away from 
the French corps were found here, some dead and some 



364, INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

horribly mutilated. Yet in spite of this the same signs 
of mock friendliness greeted our eyes on every side 
those fluttering little flags of all nations, so rudely made 
from whatever cloth had been handy. Every building dis- 
played some flag every single one ; but there now were 
other signs, too signs which showed that all this quar- 
ter had been picked so clean that it was of no more value 
to marauders. Little notices, some in French, some in 
English, and "a few in other tongues, were scratched 
on the walls or written on dirty scraps of paper and 
nailed up. Half in jest and half in earnest, these curi- 
ous notices said all manner of things. For the wretched 
people who had been plundered or otherwise ill used had 
already fallen into the habit of asking from the soldiery 
for some scrap of writing which would prove that they 
had contributed their quota, and might, therefore, be 
exempted from further looting. Scrawled in soldiers' 
hands were such things as, "Defense absolue de filler; 
nous autres avons tout pris"; or, "No looting permitted. 
This show is cleaned out." Everywhere these signs 
were to be seen. Here they must have worked fast and 
furiously. . . . 

Riding quickly, at last we reached the famous cathedral, 
with great trenches and earthworks surrounding it, and 
the torn and battered buildings showing how bitter the 
struggle had been. To our siege-taught eyes a single 
look explained the nature of the defence, and the lines 
which had been naturally formed. It was written as 
plain as on a map. The priests and their allies had now 
hauled the enemy's abandoned guns to the cathedral 
entrances and the spires were now crowned with gar- 
lands of flags of all nations. But that was all. There 
was no one to be seen. Everybody was away, out mind- 



THE SACK CONTINUES 365 

ing the new business that of making good the damage 
done by levying contributions on the city at large. It 
was all dead quiet, silent like some deserted graveyard. 
The sailors and the priests and their converts, remember- 
ing that Heaven helps those who help themselves, had 
sallied out and were reprovisioning themselves and mak- 
ing good their losses. Indeed, the only men we could 
find were some converts engaged in stacking up silver 
shoes, or sycee, in a secluded quadrangle. These had 
become the property of the mission by the divine right 
of capture ; there seemed at the moment nothing strange 
about it. 

This silent cathedral, with its vast grounds and its 
deserted quadrangles torn up by the savage conflict, be- 
came to us curiously oppressive almost ghostlike in the 
bright sunshine. It seemed absurd to imagine that forty 
or fifty rifle-armed sailors, a band of priests and many 
thousands of converts had been ringed in here by fire 
and smoke for weeks, and had lost dozens and hundreds 
at a time through mine explosions. It seemed, also, 
equally absurd that the twenty or thirty thousand men 
who had poured into Peking had already become so 
quickly lost in the expanses of the city. Where were 
they all? . . . 

My mad companion had tired, too, of looking, and 
wanted again to rush off and discover some signs of life. 
He wanted, above all, to see the place where the first 
companies of the French infantry had suddenly come on 
a mixed crowd of Boxers, soldiers and townspeople flee- 
ing in panic all mixed together, and had mown them 
down with mitrailleuses. There was a cul-de-sac, which 
was horrible, it was reported. The machine-guns had 
played for ten or fifteen minutes in that death-trap with- 



366 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

out stopping a second until nothing had moved. The in- 
cident was only a day or two old, yet every one had 
heard of it. People exclaimed that this was going too 
far in the matter of vengeance. But everything had 
been allowed to go too far. . . . 

We rode out at a canter, and wondered more and more 
as we rode at the solitude, where so few hours before 
there had been such a deafening roar. We plunged 
straight into the maze of narrow streets, and then sud- 
denly, before we were aware of it, our mounts were 
swerving and snorting in mad terror! For corpses 
dotted the ground in ugly blotches, the corpses of men 
who had met death in a dozen different ways. Lying in 
exhausted attitudes, they covered the roadway as if they 
had been merely tired to death. It was awful, and I 
began to have a terrible detestation for these Asiatic 
faces, which, because they are dead, become such a hide- 
ous green-yellow-white, and whose bodies seem, to shrivel 
to nothing in their limp blue suitings. Such dead are an 
insult to the living. 

We picked our way on our trembling mounts, trying 
vainly to push through quickly to escape it all. But it 
was no good. We had stumbled by chance on the actual 
route taken by an avenging column, and the men who 
had been mad with lust to loot the Palace, and had been 
turned off almost as an afterthought to relieve co- 
religionists, had vented their wrath on everything. The 
farther and farther we penetrated the more hideous did 
the ruins and the corpses become. There was nothing 
but silence once again death, ruin, and silence; and at 
last we came on such a mountain of corpses that our 
ponies suddenly stampeded and went madly careering 
away. Frightened more and more by the sound of their 



THE SACK CONTINUES 067 

galloping hoofs, the animals soon laid their legs to the 
ground and bolted blindly. Vainly we tugged at our 
bridles; vainly we tried every device to bring them to a 
halt. But again it was no good. It had become a sort 
of mad gallop of death; the animals had to be allowed 
to rid themselves of their feelings. 

Eventually we pulled up far away to the west of where 
we had started. We were now near the districts w T hich 
had only the day before been proclaimed highly danger- 
ous to every one until clearing operations had swept them 
clean of lurking Boxers or disbanded soldiery. But now 
attracted by a roar of flames, and indifferent to any dan- 
gers which might lurk near by, we followed up the trail 
of smoke hanging on the skies to see what was taking 
place. One's interest never ceased, yet it was only the 
same thing. French soldiers, some drunk and some 
merely savage, had found their way here by some 
strange fate, and being quite alone had evidently looted 
and then set fire to a big pile of buildings. They were 
discharging their rifles, too ; for as we approached, bul- 
lets whistled overhead, and sobbing townspeople, driven 
from their hiding-places, began rushing away in every 
direction. This was strange. 

Our arrival was only the signal for a fresh discharge 
of rifles, and then there was no doubt who was attract- 
ing the fire. The men were deliberately aiming at us to 
drive us away ! We halted behind cover, and then with 
the same callousness as they displayed, we gave them a 
volley back, as a note of warning. It was my insane 
companion who drove us to do that ; but, forthwith, on 
the sound of that well-knit discharge, there was more 
firing on every side, some shots coming from houses quite 
close to us and some from the open streets. With the 



368 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

growing roar and crackle of the flames these shots made 
very insignificant popping and attracted but little atten- 
tion. Yet I soon saw that this continuous firing could not 
come from the rifles of European soldiery, unless there 
were whole companies of them, and that perhaps we had 
been mistaken for other people. And soon my sus- 
picions were confirmed by a confused shouting in the 
vernacular, and a rush of men from lanes not a hundred 
yards away. Then there were some half-suppressed 
blasts on the hideous Chinese trumpet and Chinese 
soldiery. . . . 

They came out with a mad rush and charged straight 
at the drunken French marauders, firing quickly as they 
ran after the old manner which we knew so well As we 
gazed, the men from the relief columns fell back in 
disorder without any hesitation indeed, fled madly to 
the nearest houses and began pelting their assailants with 
lead in return. Suppressed trumpet-blasts came again, 
rallying the attackers; more and more men rushed out 
from all sorts of places, and as this was no affair of ours, 
and our retreat would certainly be cut off if we dallied, 
we retreated at full gallop farther and farther to the 
west. We were going straight away to where might be 
oar damnation. 

I do not remember clearly how far we rode, or why we 
galloped, but soon we arrived almost at the flanking 
city walls miles away, and found ourselves among scores 
and hundreds of the enemy, who were still lurking on 
the streets, half disguised and mixed with the towns- 
people. They fired at us as we rode; they fired at us 
when we stopped ; for many minutes there was nothing 
to be heard but the hissing of lead and fierce yells. . . . 

Conscious that only a big effort would pull us through, 



THE SACK CONTINUES 309 

we boldly turned bridle and galloped to the south 
reached a city gate, went through at a frantic pace, and 
sought safety in the outer Chinese town. Here it was 
quieter for a time, but as once more we approached the 
central streets, down which the Allies had marched, we 
came across other marauders. This time they were 
Indian troops going about in bands, with only their side 
arms with them, but leaving the same destruction behind 
them. Then we came across Americans, again some 
French, then some Germans, until It became an endless 
procession of looting men conquerors and conquered 
mixed and indifferent. . . . 

It was eight at night before I pulled up on my foun- 
dered mount at home* I confess I had had enough. We 
were dead with fatigue. This was too much after one 
had those weeks of siege. 



IV 

CHAOS 

August, 1900. 



The refugee columns have gone at last, and have got 
down safely to the boats at Tungchow, which is fifteen 
miles away, and in direct water communication with 
Tientsin. It is good that nearly all the women and 
children and the sick have been packed off. This is, in- 
deed, no place for them. An Indian regiment sent a 
band, which played the endless columns of carts, sedan 
chairs, and stretchers out along the sands under the 
Tartar Wall, until they were well on their way. That 
made every one break down a little and realise what it 
has been. They say it was like India during the Mutiny, 
and that it was impossible for any one to have a dry eye.- 
Even the native troops, rich in traditions and stories of 
such times, understood the curious significance of it all. 
They talked a great deal and told their officers that it 
was the same. 

Thus, winding away over the sands and through the 
dust, the only ralson d'etre of this great relief expedition 
has passed away. Probably a conviction of this is why 
the situation in Peking itself shows no signs of improv- 
ing. Some say that it has become rather worse, in a 
subtle, secret way. More troops have marched in, 
masses of German troops and French infantry of the 
line, and columns of Russians are already moving out, 



CHAOS 372 

bound for places no one can ascertain. Nothing but 
moving men on the great roads. 

It is the newly arrived who cause the most trouble. 
Furious to find that those who came with the first col- 
umns have all feathered their nests and satisfied every 
desire, they are trying to make up for lost time by 
stripping even the meanest streets of the valueless things 
which remain. They say, too, now, that punitive expe- 
ditions are to be organised and pushed all over North 
China, because these new troops, which have come from 
so far, must be given something to do, and cannot be 
allowed to settle down in mere idleness until something 
turns up, which will alter the present irresolution and 
confusion. . . . 

But for the time being there is little else but quiet loot- 
ing. Even some of the Ministers have made little for- 
tunes from so-called official seizures, and there is one 
curious case, which nobody quite understands, of forty 
thousand taels in silver shoes being suddenly deposited 
in the French Legation, and as suddenly spirited away 
by some one else to another Legation, while no one dares 
openly to say who are the culprits, although their names 
are known. Silver, however, is a drug in the market. 
Everybody, without exception, has piles of it. Also, 
the Japanese, who are supposed to be on their good 
conduct, have despoiled the whole Board of Revenue 
and taken over a million pounds sterling in bullion. 
They have been most cunning. The only currency to 
be had is the silver shoe. These shoes can be bought at 
an enormous discount for gold in any form, and even 
with silver dollars you can make a pretty profit. The 
new troops, who have arrived too late, are doing their 
best to find some more of this silver by digging up gar- 



372 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

dens and breaking down houses. Marchese P , of 

the Italians, who always pretends that he has been a min- 
ing engineer in some prehistoric period of his existence, 
calls it "working over the tailings." 

In consequence of this glut of silver and curiosities, a 
regular buying and selling has set up, and all our armies 
are becoming armies of traders. There are official 
auctions now being organised, where you will be able to 
buy legally, and after the approved methods, every kind 
of loot. The best things, however, are being disposed 
of privately, for it is the rank and file who have man- 
aged to secure the really priceless things. I heard to-day 
that an amateur who came up with one of the columns 
bought from an American soldier the Grand Cross of 
the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle, set in magnifi- 
cent diamonds, for the sum of twenty dollars. It seems 
only the other day that Prince Henry was here for the 
special purpose of donating this mark of the personal 
esteem of the Kaiser after the Kiaochow affair. Twenty 
dollars it is an inglorious end! 

The native troops from India, seeing all these strange 
scenes around them, and quickly contaminated by the 
force of bad example, are most curious to watch. When 
they are off duty they now select a good corner along the 
beaten tracks where people can travel in safety, squat 
down on their heels, spread a piece of cloth, and display 
thereon all the lumps of silver, porcelain bowls, vases 
and other things which they have managed to capture. 
You can sometimes see whole rows of them thus en- 
gaged. The Chinese Mohammedans, of whom there 
are in normal times many thousands in Peking, have 
found that they can venture forth in safety in all the 
districts occupied by Indian troops once they put on tur- 



CHAOS 373 

bans to show that they are followers of Islam ; and now 
they may be seen in bands every day, with white and 
blue cloths swathed round their heads in imitation of 
those they see on the heads of their fellow-religionists, 
going to fraternise with all the Mussulmans of the 
Indian Army. It is these Chinese Mohammedans who 
now largely serve as intermediaries between the popu- 
lation and the occupation troops. They are buying back 
immense quantities of the silver and silks in exchange for 
foodstuffs and other things. A number of streets are 
now safe as long as it is light, and along these people 
are beginning to move with more and more freedom. 
But as soon as it is dark the uproar begins again. The 
Chinese have had time now, however, to hide all the val- 
uables that have been left them. Everything is being 
buried as quickly as possible in deep holes, and search 
parties now go out armed with spades and picks, and 
try to purchase informers by promising a goodly share 
of all finds made. It is really an extraordinary con- 
dition. . . . 



V 

SETTLING DOWN 

End of August, 1900. 



It shows how little is still generally known of what 
is going on in our very midst, and how disordered things 
really are, when I say that I only learned to-day that the 
whole city in fact, every part of it has been duly 
divided up some time ago by the Allied Commanders 
into districts one district being assigned to every Power 
of importance that has brought up troops. They are 
trying to organise military patrols and a system of police 
to stop the looting, which shows no signs of abating. 
Everybody is crazy now to get more loot. Every new 
man says that he only wants a 'few trifles, but as soon as 
he has a few he must, of course, have more, and thus 
the ball continues rolling indefinitely. . . . Nothing 
will stop it. 

Yesterday, just as a man of the British Legation was 
telling me that the system was really all right, that it 
was, in fact, a working system which would soon be pro- 
ductive of results, and that the bad part was over, a huge 
Russian convoy debouched into the street where we were 
standing. It was a curious mixture of green-painted 
Russian army-waggons and captured Chinese country 
carts, and every vehicle was loaded to its maximum 
capacity with loot. The convoy had come in from the 
direction of the Summer Palace, and was accompanied 



SETTLING DOWN 375 

by such a small escort of infantrymen that I should not 
have cared to insure them against counter-attacks on the 
road from any marauders who might have seen them in 
a quiet spot. A dozen mounted men of resolution could 
have cut them up. 

The carts lumbered along, however, indifferent to 
every danger, in their careless disorder. Their drivers 
were half asleep, and things kept on dropping to the 
ground and being smashed to atoms. Just near us the 
ropes stretched round one cart became loosened by the 
rocking and bumping occasioned by the vile road, and 
the contents, no longer held in place, began spilling to 
the ground. As soon as he had seen this, the Russian 
soldier-driver became furious. He would have had to 
do a lot of work to repack his load properly, so he soon 
thought of a shorter and easier way: he began deliber- 
ately throwing overboard his overload! Three beau- 
tiful porcelain vases of enormous size and priceless value 
suffered this fate ; then some bulky pieces of jade carved 

in the form of curious animals. C tried to stop 

the man, but I only smiled grimly. What did it matter? 
In Prince Tiian's Palace I had seen, a couple of days 
before, the incredible sight of thousands of pieces of 
porcelain and baskets full of wonderful objets de vertu 
smashed into ten thousand atoms by the soldiery who 
had first forced their way there. They only wanted bul- 
lion. Porcelain painted in all the colours of the rain- 
bow, and worth anything on the European markets 
what did that mean to them ! 

The convoy at last bumped away, leaving merely a 
long trail of dust behind it and those fragments on the 
ground, and C became silent and then left me sud- 
denly. Perhaps the idea had finally entered his re- 



376 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

spectable British head that we had become grotesque and 
out of date, and that we should retreat and make room 
for other men. Nobody cares for anybody else. Only a 
few hours before a reliable story had been going the 
rounds that some Indian infantry had opened fire on a 
Russian detachment in the country just beyond the Chi- 
nese city, pleading that it was a mistake. How could 
it have been ? There is only one really sensible thing to 
do, and now it is too late to do that : to set fire to the 
whole city and then retreat, as Napoleon did from Mos- 
cow. The road to the sea is too short and the winter too 
far off for any harm to come. 

The first cables have at length come through in batches 
from Europe, by way of the field telegraphs, which are 
now working smoothly and well. Everybody of impor- 
tance is being transferred, but it is impossible to find out 
where they are all going. All the Ministers now pre- 
tend that they had asked for transfers before the siege 
actually began, and that they will be heartily glad to go 
away and forget that such a horrible place as Peking 
exists. Yet from the nervousness of those who have 
been told to report for orders in Europe, it cannot be all 
joy. 



VI 
THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT 

August, 1900. 



Fortunately my friend K , of the Russian Lega- 
tion, rescued me at a moment when I was prepared only 
to moralise on this infernal situation, and to see nothing 
but evil in everything both around me and in myself. I 
like to put it all down to the strange stupor and lack of 
energy which have settled down on everything like a 
blight, but I believe, also, that there must be a little bit 

of remorse at the bottom of my feelings. K came 

in gaily enough, pretending that he was looking for a 
breakfast and had learned of my retreat by mere 
chance as he rode by. He had heard, I believe, as a 
matter of fact, that there were a number of women on 
the premises, and that I was living en prince. Perhaps 
he had a number of reasons for coming. From what he 
told me, however, it soon appeared that he had known 

L , the commander of the Russian columns, for 

many years, and had just done business with him; and 
that, in consequence, the Russian commander, who is a 
pleasant old fellow, risen from the ranks, had said that 
he could have a private view of the Palace if he swore 
on his honour that he would not divulge the excursion 
to any one. He must, also, not take anything. He did 
not tell me all at first. It came out bit by bit, after I 
had been sounded on a number of points. Then he 



378 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

asked me if I would like to come, and if I, too, would 
swear. 

Of course, I duly swore! 

Eventually we started on our long ride; for it was 
necessary for us to go right round the Imperial city, 
skirting the pink walls so as not to become involved in 
other people's territory, or to be noticed too much. That 

was one of the preliminary precautions, K said. 

All the way round, that ride was a beautiful illustration 
of the way the International Concert (written with capi- 
tal letters) is now working. At absolutely every en- 
trance into the Imperial city there were troops of one 
nationality or another: American, British, French, Ger- 
man, Japanese, and others all looking jealously at 
every passer-by, and holding so tight to their precious 
gates, that it appeared as if all the world was conspiring 
to wrest them from their grasp. They thought, per- 
haps, that this Palace is the magic wand which touches 
all China and can produce any results ; that both in the 
immediate and dim future the obtaining of a good foot- 
hold here will mean an immense amount to their re- 
spective countries. What fatuous, immense foolishness ! 
For a moment, as I looked at these guards, I had the 
insane desire to charge suddenly forward and call upon 
the French, in the name of their dear Ally, Czar Nicho- 
las, to hand me their gate, or else take the consequences ; 
to do the same to the others ; to mix them up and confuse 
them; to tell them that a new war had been declared; 
that they would soon have to fight for their lives against 
formidable foes to tell them mad things and to add to 
the rumours which already fill the air. These troops, 
which had been hurled on Peking in frantic haste, had 
only come because it was a matter of jealousy that was 



THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT 379 

now clear to me. They themselves did not know why 
they had come, or with whom they were fighting, or why 
they were fighting. They knew nothing and cared less. 
And yet it does not much matter. It is not really they 
who are to blame, nor even their officers. I know full 
well how instructions are issued and how little the 
pawns really count. . . . The despatches from the 
Chancelleries of Europe, how grotesque they can be! 
Everybody is aways so afraid of everybody 'else. 

Yet while I was thinking these things, K was 

not. He was secretly worried, as he rode, whether 

L 's promise would materialise, or whether there 

would be another impasse. Somehow I felt certain that 
there would be more difficulties, in spite of all assur- 
ances. Ce n'est pas pour rlen qiton connait les Russes f 
as C , our old doyen, always says. . . . 

We passed at length into the Imperial city by the north- 
ern entrances, far away from everybody else, and found 
ourselves in the midst of a big Russian encampment, 
with rows upon rows of guns ranged in regular forma- 
tion and lots of tents and horses. All the soldiery here 
were taking it very easy on this sunny day; had, indeed, 
stripped themselves, and were now engaged in sluicing 
themselves over with ice-cold water from a beautiful 
marble-enclosed canal. These hundreds upon hundreds 
of clean white men, with their flaxen hair and their blue 
eyes, seemed so strange and out of place in this semi- 
barbaric Palace and so indifferent. How curious it was 
to think that only a few days ago the Empress and all 
her cortege had passed here I 

We sought out the post commander and told him our 
purpose* The difficulties began quickly enough then, as 
I had anticipated. The officer explained to us that our 



380 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

request was out of order and impossible ; that no one was 
allowed inside the inner precincts or had ever been there; 

and hinted, incidentally, that we must be mad. K 

listened to all this in that insulting silence which is a sure 
sign of gentility, and then, ransacking his pockets, 
brought out a letter and handed it to our man. That 
produced a change which might have been highly amus- 
ing at other times. There was the complete volte-face 
which amuses. The officer suddenly saluted, clicked his 
heels, and said in a silky way, like a cat which has tasted 
milk, that this order was explicit and made things differ- 
ent; that, indeed, we might go at once if we liked, only 
we must be discreet highly discreet. He would accom- 
pany us himself. Such trivial details were soon arranged. 
We left our ponies and our outriders then and marched 
forward quickly on foot. The soldiery around us stared 
and laughed among themselves as soon as they saw 
where we were going. This made me understand that 
this excursion had been taken before, probably under the 
same orders and in exactly the same way. It was only 

a well-rehearsed comedy. K , who is really a bit 

of a coward, did not appear to relish the comments 
made, and now became suddenly reluctant. He told me 
afterwards that he had overheard the men saying that 
we might be killed inside, as there were many people 
there. So in silence we all marched on. 
The first gate we reached was a beautiful example of 
the art of this Northern country. There were splendid 
pillars of teak, marble tigers and marble fretwork be- 
neath, with much glittering colouring around. A strong 
post of Russian infantry was on guard here, and sitting 
inside the enclosure with the men off duty were a number 
of Palace eunuchs. They; all seemed quite intimate 



THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT 381 

together and were chaffing one another soldiers and 
eunuchs laughing heartily at some coarse jest. 

We wended our way through a marble courtyard, 
which wore a rather deserted and forlorn look, and 
which had huge low-lying halls and dwellings for the 
Palace servants ranged on either side. These appeared 
to be all deserted now, but at regular intervals were 
Russian sentries standing up on lookout platforms. 
They were peering over the walls in every direction, and 
seemed to be keeping a very sharp lookout. The officer 
said that many guards of other nationalities were well 
within rifle-shot from here, and that men were con- 
tinually trying to steal their way right into the inner 
Palace by scaling the walls. He called them robbers 1 

The next gate was much smaller, and showed from its 
very appearance that we were nearing the actual 
Palaces the hidden, mysterious abodes of the Tartar 
rulers who had so ignominiously fled. Here the sentries 
had the strictest orders, for, stopping us short with their 
lowered bayonet points, they looked askance at us, and 
politely asked the officer who we were and why we had 
ventured here. In the end, to set their minds at ease, 
he had to tear a leaf from his pocket-book, write an 
order, and make us sign our names. Upon this, the non- 
commissioned officer in charge of this post detached him- 
self and joined our little party. We were not going to 
be allowed in alone, and imperceptibly the affair assumed 
a graver and more consequential aspect. Then, quietly 
advancing, we four were speedily lost in the huge maze 
of gardens and buildings. The area covered by the 
Palaces was enormous. 

Beyond this was a succession of high, picturesque-look- 
ing buildings of a curious Persian-Tartar appearance, 



382 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

with little galleries running round them, and drum- 
shaped gateways of stone pierced in unexpected places. 
There were also flowering trees and beautiful groves. It 
was, indeed, charming, and over everything there was a 
refined coolness which to me was something very new. 
We came on a last sentry, who, at a word from his 
sergeant, drew a heavy iron key from a wooden box 
hanging on the wall and fitted it to a lock. The key 
turned with a faint screeching, which seemed out of 
place ; the little gate was thrust open and closed behind 
us, and . . . at last we were within the sacro-sanct 
courtyards of the rulers of the most antique Empire in 
the world. . . . 

Around us there was now a curious and unnatural quiet, 
as if the world was very old here, and the noises of 
modern life remained abashed at the thresholds. I knew 
well from a study of the curious old Chinese maps, which 
the vendors of Peking objets (Part always offer you, 
where we were, and it was almost with a sense of 
familiarity that I turned and made my way to the east. 
There I knew in ordinary times the Empress Dowager 
herself lodged in a whole Palace to herself. Somewhere 
not very far from us I caught the soft cooing of the 
doves, which every one in Peking, from Emperor to 
shopkeepers, delights to keep, in order to send sailing 
aloft on balmy days with a low-singing whistle attached 
to their wings a whistle which makes music in the air 
and calls the other birds. Who has not heard that pleas- 
ant sound ? Even the Empress Dowager must have loved 
it. Here, in her private realm, the doves were cooing, 
cooing, cooing, just like the French word roucoulement, 
spoken strongly with the accent of Marseilles. You 
could hear these birds of the Marseilles accent saying 



THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT S83 

continually that French word: Roiicoulement, roucoule- 
rnent, roucoitlement, with never a break. . . . 

We ran up some flights of marble steps, following 
these gentle sounds, and walked along a broad terrace 
adorned with fantastically curved dwarf-trees, set in rich 
porcelain pots, and made stately with enormous bronze 
braziers. The Russian officer, and even the Russian 
sergeant, were agreeably stroked by the contact with all 
this quiet and seclusion and this old-world air, and they 
murmured in sibilant Russian. It pleased them im- 
mensely. 

We hastened to the end of the terrace, going quickly, 
because we were anxious to find more delights ; and as we 
turned at the end, without any warning there were a few 
light screams and a little scuffle of feet which died away 
rapidly. Women. . . . 

We caught a disappearing vision of brilliantly coloured 
silks and satins and rouged faces passing away through 
some doors, and then before we had satisfied our eyes, 
several flabby-faced men suddenly came out and called 
imperatively to us to stop and go away. We could not 
go farther, they said. 

The two men of the Russian army, with the instinct of 
discipline which we lacked, halted as if orders were being 

disobeyed, and looked at K for inspiration. K 

stroked his thin moustaches, and put his head a little on 
one side, as if he were debating what to say. I well, 
since I had nothing to lose, and it did not really matter, 
I went forward without any delay, asking our interlocu- 
tors roughly what they meant and what they were doing 
here, and telling them, too, that we were going on. I 
knew that they were sexless eunuchs, who would stammer 
as I had heard them stammer in the old days when I had 



384 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

seen them trafficking things they had been donated by 
officials desirous of cultivating their friendship, in the 
mysterious curio shops beyond the great Ch'ien Men 
Gate. Nor was I wrong. Stammering, they replied by 
asking how it was that orders had been broken. Stam- 
mering, they said that all the great generals had prom- 
ised that the inner Palaces were to be kept immune ; now 
men were for ever climbing in, and others were coming 
openly as we were doing. What did we wish ? 

I am afraid I was rude, for questions in these times do 
not sit well on such folk, and I told them more roughly 
than ever to go quickly away, or else we would hurt 
them. Perhaps we would even hurt them badly, I in- 
sinuated, fingering my revolver, for we had a duty to do. 
We were going to inspect the entire Palace and see that 
all was well. And before these men had recovered from 
their surprise we had pushed right into the Empress 
Dowager's own ante-chambers. 

I saw, as I walked in, that a long avenue in the distance 
led directly to a high yellow-walled enclosure. That 
must be the Imperial seraglio, where the hundreds of 
young Manchu women provided by tradition for the 
amusement of the Emperor were imprisoned for life. 
In the haste of the Court's flight, the majority of them 
had been abandoned, and only the most valuable taken 
off. Everybody had heard of that. 

Gently discoursing to the disturbed eunuchs, we went 
through room after room, which even on the hot autumn 
day seemed cool and peaceful. The objets de vertu 
which littered the small tables, and the scrolls which 
hung from the walls, did little to relieve the sombre 
effect of those high ceilings and carved wood frescoes. 
Yet there was a little air of distinction and refinement 



THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT 385 

which showed that an immeasurable gulf separated the 
favoured dwellers of this Palace from even the greatest 
outside. Even here Royalty does more than oblige; it 
compels. . . . 

With the eunuchs protesting more and more vigor- 
ously, and seeking to stay our advance by a curious mix- 
ture of suggestion and imploring and resistance which is 
a quality of the East, we slowly passed through apart- 
ment after apartment. Some now were furnished with 
luxurious long divans which eloquently Invited graceful 
repose. What scenes had not this silent furniture wit- 
nessed, and how little could the makers have supposed, 
as they cunningly carved and stained and coloured, that 
barbarians from Europe would be one day insolently 
gazing on their handiwork ! . . . 

I had lagged somewhat behind, when some curses and 
imprecations dragged my wandering attention to the 
doors beyond. Two eunuchs had fallen on their knees 
and were now kowtowing and begging with renewed 
vigour, while a third was standing more resolutely than 
his fellows with outstretched arms, imperatively forbid- 
ding any further advance. The most interesting point 
had been reached; this must be the greatest thing of all. 

But these eunuchs were beginning to fatigue us with 
their airs of duly authorised custodians who could do as 
they pleased, and going up, we now told them that un- 
less they went quickly away we would kill them then and 
there. We all drew our revolvers, stood over them, and 
waited a minute or two. Then, as if they had acted their 
parts right up to the end, the men on their knees got up 
suddenly, shook themselves, bowed to us politely with- 
out a trace of feeling, and left. ... . . "Enfin" said 

JV 



386 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

At last we were in this dear Empress's bedroom, the 
abode which shelters for such a considerable number of 
hours of every twenty- four the most powerful woman in 
Asia. We looked eagerly. At one side of the room was 
a large bed, beautifully adorned with embroidered 
hangings ; ranged round there was a profusion of hand- 
some carved-wood furniture, with European chairs up- 
holstered in a style out of keeping with the rest; on a 
high stand there were jewelled clocks noisily ticking; 
and hidden modestly in one corner was nothing less than 
a magnificent silver pot de chambre. She was here evi- 
dently very much at her ease, the dear old lady. That 
little detail delighted me. The rest was rather banal. 

Sans ceremonie, I seated myself on the Imperial bed 
it seemed to be the most peaceful act of vandalism I 
could commit in repayment for certain discomforts 
occasioned by this old lady's whims during eight weeks 
of rifle-fire. And as my recollections went back to those 
terrible days, I came down heavily as I could on this 
august couch. I must confess that as a bed it was excel- 
lent; the old lady must have slept well through it all, 
while she caused us our ceaseless vigil. . . . 

This solitude in the most secluded of spots in the whole 
Palace made us more and more inquisitive, and soon 

K and myself were hard at work, rummaging 

every likely hiding-place. 

Our escort watched our antics and said nothing. It 
made an odd enough little scene that, and I liked to think 
of its incongruity we two sets of men, who had not 
known of each other's existence an hour ago, now abso- 
lutely alone in this retreat, from whence the siege had 
been largely directed. 

K continued rummaging, making an extraordinary 



THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT 387 

amount of noise, and exclaiming to himself now and 
again as he came across trifles which interested him. 
Then I discovered a compote, or preserve made of rose- 
leaves, which was so sweet and fragrant that we began 
promptly eating. There were also Russian cigarettes, 
au bonheur des dames, yet quite fit to smoke, and then 

just as we were becoming reasonably content, K 

gave a tremendous oath and brought out something in 
his hand. Then I knew that he was lost that there 
would be speedy complications; it was a Louis XV, 
painted watch his greatest weakness. Peking is full 
of these watches, some genuine enough and many spuri- 
ous. They were made the vogue centuries ago by the 
clever Jesuit priests, when the first disciples of Loyola 
to come to China were playing for kingly stakes in the 
capital of Cathay, and were not ashamed to use any 
means which their ingenuity might discover to delight 
the Manchu rulers of that day. Many of the most beau- 
tiful watches in France, with amorous paintings of the 
most voluptuous kind decorating the inside case, were 
brought to Peking and distributed among the high and 
mighty. That set up a fashion for such pretty things; 
more and more were brought, until Peking became a 
storehouse, stocked with this specialty. Every one even 
to-day has an example or two of this art, if they can 
afford It. 

I thought of these things as I saw K trifle with 

that watch and scrutinise it more and more closely. He 
looked at it for a last time longingly, and then, without 
a word, suddenly placed it in his pocket That was cool. 
But at once the Russian officer started forward protest- 
ing; we were breaking our words; we had begun looting; 
he would be forced to arrest us. As he spoke, the man 



388 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

became so red and excited, that K , who pretended 

at first merely to smile indulgently, became more and 
more alarmed, and finally replaced the watch without a 
word. But still he continued this curious search, and 
coming across other things, I noticed vaguely that he 
seemed to be placing them all together in little collec- 
tions, so that he could easily get at them again. . . . 

Then we wandered away to other great buildings, and 
we came on a beautiful set of princely rooms, full of 
ticking clocks and rich tapestries, and with such things 
as solid gold bonbonnieres, studded with coarse, uncut 
stones, lying on the secretaires and small tables. These, 
I believe, were the Emperor's apartments in normal 
times. There were lots of beautiful things here vases, 
enamels, jade, cloisonne, and much wondrous porcelain; 
and although every one had been saying that Peking was 
not as rich as in 1860, when those strings of beautiful 
black pearls had been brought home for the Empress 
Eugenie, still it was clear that these Palaces contained 
a wealth undreamed of outside. Indeed, there were 
magnificent things. . . . 

Round the corners, as we walked, we saw the eunuchs 
looking and lurking, and finally disappearing whenever 
they thought that they were seen. There were more of 
them now, too, and, seeing us quite alone, they were 
beginning to pluck up courage and wished once more to 
interfere. I thought for an instant as I looked at their 
evil faces of tearing down some rich embroidery and 
fashioning from it a sack just as I had seen those Indian 
troopers do so few days before ; then of setting to work 
and piling everything I fancied into it and making as if I 
intended to go off. 

Yet such a comedy would not be worth the candle ; the 



THE FORBIDDEN FBUIT 389 

officer and the sergeant would have to go through the 
formality of arresting me, and the eunuchs would not 
even be noticed. . . . 

Engrossed with such thoughts, and no longer amused 
by my surroundings, I must have forgotten myself for a 
moment in a brown study; for when I came to, I was 
surprised to find that we four had drifted some distance 

apart, and that K was now whispering rapidly to 

the Russian officer alone, and that the sergeant was 
standing far away, with his back turned to them, slily 
fingering the things on the tables. Then the sergeant 
allowed his hand to linger longer than was necessary, 
and, throwing a sharp look round out of the corners of 
his eyes, He suddenly thrust some object into his pocket. 
He, too, had succumbed ! I paid not the slightest atten- 
tion to these curious developments, but pretended to be 
gazing idly at nothing. Still, I kept my eyes on- the alert. 

K was manifestly plotting for those watches; it 

was not my business what did it matter to me if he took 
everything there was? 

The officer, whatever the arguments, was obviously not 
yet very convinced, nor very happy. He shook his head 
vigorously again and again, and protested in that thick 
Russian undertone, which always seems to me to explain 
what Russians really are. Yet those thick tones were 
becoming gradually monotonous and less emphatic, and 
presently slower and slower, until they stopped alto- 
gether. Then K came towards me, and said care- 
lessly that he supposed I wanted to wander around a 
little more on my own account to see what else there was. 
It was an invitation to disappear. Very well ! I moved 
off suddenly and sent the eunuchs scurrying back. There 
was a wish to split up the party for a few minutes so 



390 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

that no one would know what the others were doing. I 
knew I should immensely annoy the eunuchs by going 
towards the women's quarters. Well, I would not 
cavil. * . . 

I walked rapidly enough then down that back avenue I 
had observed before, and looked neither behind me nor 
to the right or left I would go straight through to the 
end, Dieu voulant! It would be interesting to have the 
unique experience of exploring the poor Emperor's most 
private domains. But then I remembered that the 
women had screamed and run away when they had 
caught sight of us in the beginning. Now they would 
be securely locked in, and it was absurd and dangerous 
to think of storming a gate by one's self. Farther and 
farther I walked away until I became doubtful. . . . 

I suddenly became aware that I was in front of a small 
door; that the door was ajar; and that an amused talking 
and moving was going on very near with many ripples 
of laughter rising clearly in the still air. It seemed that 
the fates were helping me for some inscrutable purpose. 
I must discover that purpose. Without a quiver I boldly 
walked in. 

I came on them without any sense of emotion, although 
nothing could have been so novel a number of groups 
of young Manchu women, some clothed in beautiful 
robes, some in an undress which was hardly maidenly. 
They were sitting and standing scattered round a large 
courtyard, and hidden somewhere above them in the 
yellow tiled roofs were more of those cooing doves with 
that strong accent of Marseilles: "Roucoulement, rou- 
coulement, roucoulement" they said very gently this 
time, yet without ever ceasing. Their soft voices made 
beautiful music. . . . 



THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT 891 

For some reason none of the harem were surprised. 
Two or three of the younger women ran back a step 
or two, and clasped the hands of the others with broken 
ejaculations. Then they all sought my eyes, and some- 
how we began smiling at one another. All women are 
the same; these knew somehow that I would not hurt 
them. Yet in spite of this fact I stood there embarrassed, 
knowing not what to say or do. I had supposed myself 
inured by now to all the most impossible situations yet 
it seemed so absurd that I should be here, alone, abso- 
lutely alone, among dozens of young women who were 
the Emperor's most inviolate property virgins selected 
from among the highest and most comely in the land; 
forbidden fruit, which had not even been tasted because 
of the Emperor's lack of masculinity. ... I thought 
rapidly of the various classes into which these women 
are divided according to immemorial custom : of the con- 
cubines of the first rank, of the second, of the third, and 
even of the fourth, who are merely favoured hand- 
maidens of the Biblical type. Then I wondered whether 
it was true that when the former Emperor Hsien Feng 
had suddenly died, and the Empress Dowager had 
selected the child Kuang-hsii to succeed him, she had 
caused the child to be mutilated, so that the question of 
the next heir should remain in her own hands. . . . The 
women would know. 

And yet even Imperial concubines must have oppor- 
tunities which no one suspects, for I was suddenly re- 
lieved of the necessity of breaking the ice by their break- 
ing it for me. Without embarrassment they suddenly 
began plying me with questions, and not waiting for 
replies, they asked what was going on outside; what 
was going to happen; who was I ; why had I come ; why 



392 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

was I not a soldier? . . . The questions came so fast 
and thick that before I had realised it I had forgotten my 
surroundings, forgotten the time, forgotten most things, 
I am afraid, and was deep in the middle of an astonish- 
ing conversation, which never flagged and which was 
continually broken with laughter. Then I was brought 
to ominously. I heard a door shut with a thump ; I saw, 
the women pinch and look at one another and cease 
talking. What did that door mean? 

On purpose I did not turn round; that would have 
been fatal. I did as I always do now : I gained time to 
lessen the shock. Some day, when I have much leisure, 
I shall, doubtless, prepare tables specially adapted to 
every situation and to every temperament, which will 
show exactly the number of seconds, minutes, and hours 
which are necessary on an average to accustom one's 
self to anything. It is possible to do so ; it will be aston- 
ishing when it is done. For the time being, I thought of 
this rather glumly indeed, without a trace of enthusf- 
asm and I wished a little that I had not been so foolish 
in putting my head inside the lion's mouth. 'I remem- 
bered the story a former Secretary of the British Lega- 
tion used to tell us of two Englishmen, who, in the un- 
regenerate days in Cairo- or was it Constantinople ? 
climbed into the harem, and were cruelly mutilated for 
their audacity before they could be rescued. I became 
so glum as this flashed through my mind, that my great 
system of preparation was in imminent danger of break- 
ing down. So I turned suddenly round on my heel, and 
looked squarely ... it was as I had thought. 

The door I had entered had been quietly locked, and 
now, inside, were standing, with moving lips and menac- 
ing air, those evil-looking eunuchs. This time there 



THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT $93 

were four of them. Two were the two who had knelt 
and prayed that we should not enter the Empress Dow- 
ager's private apartments; one was the man who had 
stood up and been almost threatening; the last one was 
so tall that his aspect of strength almost gave the lie to 
the assumption that he had been mutilated for Palace 
use. These last two would be difficult; the others I 
could leave out of my calculations. 

Faithful to my theory, and trusting to this strange ally, 
I merely opened my revolver-pocket ; then it was with a 
sense that I was irretrievably lost that I saw that two of 
the opponents were armed in the same way. My theories 
and preparations were all falling to the ground. I 
would probably follow them in person in a very few 
minutes. Nobody would be the wiser. , . . 

I stood there waiting while these men muttered at me, 
as if they now hated me bitterly, and yet did not know 
how to commence, and with the women behind me chat- 
tering affrighted. In vain I tried to work out how many 
eunuchs there really were in this vast Palace ; whether a 
great number had gone away with the Court, or whether 
these four men would summon four more, or perhaps 
fourteen, and possibly even forty or four hundred. 
They always say the Palace contains three thousand. . . . 

It was all no good, however, for it was my turn to play, 
and without I played we might remain standing there in 
this manner until it became dark. Then I could be 
beaten to the ground and thrown down a well without 
any one being the wiser. No search could be made for 
me, and If one was made, nothing would be found. 
Men were continually missing in Peking, and no one 
knew how they met their fate. . . . 

I advanced now with my hands empty and my mind 



394 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

fairly made up. Everything depended on a new theory, 
which I was about to test, a mere Chinese theory con- 
cerning eunuchs that their mutilation makes them 
bestial, but also downtrodden and quite spiritless and 
peculiarly weak. That is why the old Empress could 
thrash them to death whenever they displeased her, with- 
out their daring to raise their hands or make one single 
struggle. Now, as I walked forward, I could see my 
old Chinese teacher, who had taught me these strange 
theories concerning eunuchs, sitting in front of me and 
slowly waving his fan, and showing by an analysis of 
things I did not clearly understand, how Nature had 
laws and decrees which cannot be violated without bring- 
ing heavy and immediate punishment in their train. As 
I walked forward I could not help seeing that old figure 
of a Chinese teacher in front of me, and prayed that he 
was correct. If he was not . . . then I stopped thinking 
and acted. 

I did it neatly, with some brutality, because I had been 
absolutely surprised, and had not yet recovered, and, 
also, because I was more than a little afraid. Six paces 
off I threw myself in two savage bounds against the tall 
man ; caught him with my right hand by the outstretched 
right arm, hurled him round once by the force of my 
own impetus and the strength of my grasp ; and then, as 
he swiftly swung with loosened legs, stopped him sud- 
denly short with a mighty up-driven blow of my right 
knee, which sank so deep and cruelly into his soft flesh, 
that it grated harshly against his spinal column. No- 
body can resist that blow according to the old man's 
theory, least of all a eunuch nobody, nobody. It 
should be certain as death, once you have the right grip. 
With a gurgle my man had sunk to the ground a mere 



THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT 395 

shapeless mass, perhaps really dead ; and with my breath 
coming hot through my nostrils at this success I closed 
fiercely with the second, seized him by the throat, 
wrenched at him like a madman, and carried him stag- 
gering back. The other trick demands the six paces and 
the impetus; I would have liked to have tried it again, 
but I had not dared. . . . 

But it was finished with dramatic suddenness, for even 
as I ran the second eunuch, gasping for breath, back- 
wards, the other two rushed to the door, opened it hur- 
riedly, and then stepped aside with loud implorings and 
supplications. I accepted. I let go my grasp and 
quickly jumped out. I, too, had had enough. As I went 
through I caught a last glimpse of that curious scene 
framed by the red gate-posts and the roofs beyond the 
senseless eunuch on the ground, the other standing near 
by, coughing and reaching at his throat, the women of 
the seraglio in their gaily flowered coats pressing curi- 
ously round. . . . But I had enough. I did not tarry. 
Rapidly I walked away, with a little prayer in rny heart. 
I felt almost as I had felt once when I was nearly 
drowning. 

I found K , five minutes later, sitting on the first 

marble terrace, with his pockets bulging out and an ex- 
pression of ox-like satisfaction on his face. That was an 
antidote which speedily sobered me. The officer was 
farther on, and had also looted, by his looks. The ser- 
geant of the guard well, I knew about him already. 

K smiled when I appeared, and said that I had been 

very quick and that he did not expect me so soon. I did 
not take the trouble to answer; explanations are always 
apologies. If I had told him the truth, he would never 
have believed me, and certainly never have understood. 



396 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

And if I had lied there would have been the same result. 
So I merely said I was ready, and that we had seen 
enough ; and then, in silence, each man thinking of what 
he had done, we covered the way back very quickly and 
mounted our ponies. All the way home during that long 
ride I was amused by watching the heavy posts of 
soldiery belonging to the other columns, who were so 
jealously guarding their own entrances. How angry 
they would have been if they had only known I . . . 
That was an extraordinary day. 



VII 

THE FEW REMAINS 

End of August, 1900. 



Imperceptibly, I believe, things are settling down a 
little and assuming broad outlines which can be more 
easily understood as the days go by. Most people who 
went through the siege have now gone away. A few 
remaining missionaries and their converts have flowed 
far away and quartered themselves in some of the resi- 
dences of the minor Manchu princes, and are now selling 
oil what they have found by auction. They have the 
special permission of the Ministers and Generals to act 
in this way. Loot-auctions, indeed, are going on every- 
where, and the few people who have managed to get 
through from other places in China with loads of silver 
dollars are making fortunes. There are enormous 
masses of silver sycee in nearly everybody's hands, and 
I am certain now that several of our chefs de mission 
are in clover. My own chief, who pretends to be virtu- 
ous because he is something of a faineant, to put it 
mildly, eyed me very severely the other day and said 
that every one reported that I had developed into a 
species of latter-day robber-chief, and had slain hun- 
dreds of people. He said all sorts of other things, too. 
I let him exhaust his oratory before I replied. Then I 
inquired regarding the definition of the term treasure- 
trove, which has become the consecrated phrase for all 



398 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

our many hypocrites. The generals and many of his 
colleagues had much treasure-trove, I said; I had some, 
too. Of course, I admitted that if there were investi- 
gations, and every one had to render a strict account, I 
would do the same; but for the time being I wanted 
to know that there was going to be only one law for 
every one. Those were good replies, for some of the 
biggest people in the Legations are so mean and so bent 
on covering up their tracks that they are using their 
wives to do their dirty work. 

I believe my chief thought for a moment that I knew 
something about an affair in which he was involved, for 
he only said one word, "Bien" and looked at me in a 
strange way. I knew I had frightened him, and that he 
must have thought that if I chose to speak later on there 
would be trouble. I had no such intention, of course, 
only I hated being annoyed by a man of little courage. 
Had he been courageous I should never have answered 
at all, except perhaps to offer him a share of my private 
treasure-trove ! 

Yet with all this settling down it seems to me that 
people must be becoming suddenly more and more com- 
mercial, and that an inspection of their accounts makes 
them wish for a little more on the profit side. For one 
morning a young Englishman, who has been living in 
Peking rather mysteriously for a number of years, 
marched in on me at a very early hour, accompanied 
by several Chinese, whom I immediately knew from 
their appearance to be small officials. The Englishman 
said that he had a plan and a proposition, and these he 
unfolded so rapidly that he made me laugh. It ap- 
peared that the men he had brought with him were ku- 
ping, or Treasury Guards of the Board of Revenue 



THE FEW REMAINS 399 

under the old regime; and, according to their accounts, 
they knew exactly where the secret stores of treasure 
were hidden in the secret vaults of the government. 
They explained that these stores belonged not only to the 
government, but were also portions of what peculating 
officials took from day to day and hid away until they 
could remove their plunder in safety after an inspection 
had been made. They said, did these informants, that 
there were millions in both gold and silver. They be- 
came very enthusiastic and excited as they talked. 

I waited patiently to see how they proposed to solve 
this problem did they wish a bold, open, frontal attack 
or an underground plot? Nothing is very astonishing 
now, and we have all the resourcefulness of condottieri, 
with a certain modern respectability added. But they 
were sensible people, and did not dream of the impos- 
sible. They supposed, they said, that I knew that the 
Russians had now full control of the Board of Revenue. 
Perhaps, if their commander could be approached in the 
proper way, the matter could be very rapidly attended 
to. The treasure could be seized in the name of the 
Russian Government and every one could get a share. 
That is what they said. 

At first I thought of refusing point-blank, for I was 
rather tired of these adventures; but the men were so 
persistent, and I had been so irritated by the pious insin- 
cerity of my own chief, that in the end I told them that 
I would see what could be done, although the matter 
did not interest me very much. I privately again thought 
of what our old doyen says, "Ce n'est pas pour rien 
qu'on connait les Russes" and wondered how long nego- 
tiations would last. 

Of course it was a wretchedly long business, and before 



400 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

long I regretted bitterly that I had not been more hard- 
hearted, I managed to communicate with L that 

same day through R , and explained to him as 

well as I could the whole affair. I found the Russian 
Commander-in-Chief a sly old fox, for his first idea was 
to thank me for the information and have the whole 
Treasury searched; if necessary, to dig down to a depth 
of twenty feet or so with the help of a regiment or two 
of infantry. That was his idea. In the end we man- 
aged to convince him that this was foolish, and that 
there must be places which his soldiers could not reach 
even by prodding down with their bayonets and spades 
to great depths. Secret chambers cannot be easily dis- 
covered even in this way, we said. That made L 

very angry, for no reason apparently but that the 
affair seemed a huge bother and trouble. He said in 
reply that the Japanese had taken everything in any 
case, and that this was going to be a fool's quest if he 
went on with it. Also, he would not listen to any 
arrangements being made and put in writing regarding 
the proportions to be paid to every one if a find was 
actually made. Indeed, this last idea irritated him so 
much that he angrily said that we were deliberately 
plotting to take away the property of the Russian Gov- 
ernment property which the Russian Government 
could not afford to lose, and did not intend to lose, 
either. He even added that this was a city of robbers, 
and that people would not keep to their own territory, 
but were always trying to trespass. This made us laugh 
so much that he suddenly changed his manner, and said 
that the whole question was a serious one and would 
have to be referred home by telegraph. Otherwise he 
could not authorise any payments. K , who was 



THE FEW REMAINS 401 

present, replied sarcastically that perhaps he would like 
to refer the question direct to the Czar, and begged him 
to be cautious in such a very important affair ! 

The last thing which could be got out of the Russian 
Commander-in-Chief was that he would telegraph at 
once to Alexieff at Port Arthur and ask his permission 
to arrange matters. If Alexieff said yes, we would go 
to work at once ; otherwise nothing could be attempted. 
I knew that probably not a single word would be men- 
tioned to any one out of Peking, and that these were 
mere manoeuvres. However . . . 

I had almost forgotten the matter when, a few morn- 
ings after this interview, I was suddenly awakened at 
daylight and told that there were several Russian officers 
in my courtyard who wished to speak to me at once. 
Their business was urgent. I went out and greeted the 

men, and they said that L would be ready at 

two o'clock that day to go with his staff to the Board of 
Revenue and effect the seizure ; and that a quarter share 
on all amounts seized would be given by the Russian 
Government for the information supplied. These 
officers added that they would have to go back at once; 
but in the end they remained with me the whole morn- 
ing, drinking as hard as they could, and contenting 
themselves with despatching a Cossack to say that all 
was arranged. 

We started to go to the Russian headquarters at an 
early hour, but in some mysterious way news must have 
been conveyed to other people of this latest development, 
for half a dozen men arrived and appeared immensely 
surprised to find these Russian officers there with me on 
their horses. They asked me, each in turn, whether 
everything had been arranged, and how mucfi every one 



402 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

was going to get, and where the treasure was to be 
stored. There was, indeed, no end to their questions, 
and they said that they estimated that the sum seized 
would amount to about ten or twelve million francs. 
Later on, each man took me aside, and explained what 
he had done to help the thing along, hoping that he 
would be remembered in the end, as this was a very big 
affair, and the more people in it the better. I confess 
I did not clearly understand all this; it was like floating 
a mining company. But I knew that most of these dear 
friends had been sitting shivering inside the Legations 
while the sack was going on, because they had no wish 
to risk their lives ; and now that they thought they could 
safely earn an honest penny in a legitimate affair, they 
would stoop to anything I 
We were soon such a huge cavalcade that I became 

nervous 'about the reception L would give us. 

The Russian officers, too, became more and more drunk 
in the open air, and kept on saying that they hoped there 
would be fighting, heavy fighting, for they felt just like 
it. A charge was what they wanted, they said. No one 
could find out with whom they proposed to fight, as the 
place we were going to was only a stone's throw away, 
with not a Chinaman near and a couple of strong com- 
panies of Russian infantry inside. The officers became in- 
tensely angry when every one laughed, and said that 
although they were drunk, they were not like many 
people without stomachs about whom there had been 
so much talk. That was a nasty home-blow for some of 
them. 

We found L ready enough; indeed, we had 

kept him waiting. He had most of his staff with him, 
and the usual escort of Cossacks standing by their horses, 



THE FEW REMAINS 403 

making it seem very official. Of course, L be- 
came furious when he saw the big crowd of people, and 
asked whether it was going to be a picnic. This word 
tickled one of the drunken officers so much, that sud- 
denly he let his loose legs relapse and clapped his spurs 
into his animal, which reared horribly, and in the end 
sent him on the ground. I thought I should die of 
laughter. Then everybody became more and more 
fussy, because they were afraid of L , but, for- 
tunately, the general started off ahead, muttering to him- 
self, and we rode after him like some procession. It 
seemed to me very absurd, and at that point I lost all 
confidence in the success of the expedition. Every one 
had become too sanguine, and I fully believe that you 
cannot have any luck in such affairs with a crowd of 
idiots. Other people, who had no business to know of 
the affair, somehow managed to join us on the way, and 
when we reached the Board of Revenue we numbered 
dozens of men, not including the escorts. 

There were about two companies of Russian infantry 
in occupation there, as I have already said, and in the 
first halls we found armed guards superintending hun- 
dreds of small Chinese boys at work stringing together 
copper cash. There must have been millions and hun- 
dreds of millions of these worthless coins either piled up 
in great mountains or scattered on the floors, and it 
would take months to sort them out and market them. 
It was the only thing the cunning Japanese had openly 
left! 

L now called the officers of the guard, and 

explained to them that he was about to seize secret treas- 
ure which had been so well hidden by the Chinese that 
the Japanese had not been able to find it. He told them 



404 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

to give their assistance. The new officers, when they 
heard this, looked so sharply at one another, that every 
one began to comment on it, and say that if there was 
nothing left they knew who was guilty. It was becoming 
delightful. 

We started off in a body with the ku-ping, or treasury 
guards, who were giving the information, leading us. 
They took us past a good many huge buildings that 
looked like grimy old warehouses, and then stopped us 
short at one that appeared to be still barred and bolted. 
It took some time to open these doors, although the offi- 
cers of the guard said that they had only been closed 
after they had taken over the place from the Japanese; 
and when we got inside it was so dark and dank that we 
could see nothing and could scarcely breathe. Candles 
had to be lighted, and as they threw feeble flickers of 
light across the gloom, hideous bats began flying madly 
about, and dashing to the ground in their fright great 
shreds of dusty cobwebs that must have been centuries 
old. Nobody minded that, however ; it seemed just the 
sort of place where millions could really be found in 
these prosaic days ! 

The thing was now interesting, if only from a psycho- 
logical point of view. . . . 

The ku-ping advanced, without hesitation, and brought 
us to a high wooden paling which shut off one half of 
this immense hall from the other. Inside the paling, as 
far as we could see, there were just mountains of empty 
sacks hundreds of thousands of them, even millions, 
I should think. 

But the paling was impassable. A small gate leading 
through it was still locked with a heavy Chinese padlock, 
and there was no key. One of the officers gave a wave 



THE FEW REMAINS 405 

of his hand, and a couple of the soldiers went out and 
reappeared with axes. In a few blows they had cleared 
a broad opening; the ku-ping sprang through, and, like 
bloodhounds that scent a trail, ran swiftly up the steep 
slopes of the great masses of empty bags, looking eagerly 
about them. Then, finally calculating aloud, they 
marked down a spot. They had located the exact place 
where they would have to begin to work. They stripped 
themselves to the waist with great rapidity, and, feeling 
that their reputations were at stake, without any warn- 
ing they were heaving away among those empty sacks 
like so many madmen. Faster and faster they worked, 
throwing away the sacks. Choking clouds of dust, 
now rising as if by magic, filled the whole vast hall and 
drove us back coughing and gasping for air, until, fairly 
beaten, we had to stand outside. As if through a thick 
vapour we could dimly see those men still working more 
and more rapidly. I wondered how they could 
breathe. . . . 

In very few minutes, however, they also had had 
enough, but as they sprang down, and quickly gasping, 
sought the open air, they brought with them the end of a > 
rope. They had evidently not only located the exact 
spot they were seeking, but had found the first trace 
which was necessary to make their search successful. 
Still, it was impossible to continue work in this way. It 
would take hours, at such a slow rate, to dig down be- 
neath those mountains of old treasure-sacks. It would 
take more hours to excavate or open up chambers be- 
neath. So we held a short consultation. There was but 
one thing to do. We must tear down one side of the 
building, so as to have more light, and to be able to put 
more men to work. No sooner decided on, than the 



406 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

thing was done, for in this work the Russians are su- 
preme. They called in fatigue parties from the infantry 
companies in garrison, and telling them in simple lan- 
guage to break down one side of the building, in a few 
moments a wonderful scene began. I had seen some 
rapid work at short intervals during the worst agony of 
the siege, but never have I seen men who could handle 
the axe and the crowbar like these rude infantrymen. 
Everything went down under their blows brickwork, 
woodwork, stonework, iron stanchions, everything; and 
with a rapidity which seemed incredible, gaping spaces 
appeared. Soon, standing outside, from a dozen dif- 
ferent points, you could see the Chinese informants in- 
side at work again, in those clouds of choking dust, 
thrashing up and down, like men possessed. 

But energy is not sufficient for some things. Three men 
were attempting the work of a hundred. We must have 
more hands. 

This time the dozens of small boys stringing cash in the 
outer courtyards were called in and told to fall to ; and 
forming lines which oddly resembled those made by 
firemen, they were soon bundling out the empty sacks 
to the open at the rate of thousands a minute. Faster 
and faster they worked, as if the same frenzy had spread 
to them; wider and wider moved the rings of floating 
dust, until they hung high above everything and made 
the day seem dull and threatening. Then suddenly the 
ku-ping inside gave a shout. They had got low enough 
for the time being they wanted to be able to see. The 
squads of sweating soldiers and the dozens of grimy 
little boys desisted and stood open-eyed to see what was 
to follow- They were beginning to appreciate the sig- 
nificance of it all. 



THE FEW REMAINS 407 

We waited patiently and watched the great clouds melt 
away and settle on our clothes and silt into our eyes ; and 
then finally, when it was clearer, a man inside struck a 
match, lit a candle and handed it down into a great hole 
which had been dug through the very centre of these 
decade-old bullion coverings. How deep the hole was 
I could not see, but the three men slipped in and wepe 
entirely lost to our view. ( 

They seemed a long time down there without giving a 
single sign or making any noise, and we all became a 
little nervous. Perhaps the thing was really miscarry- 
ing. Soon I felt certain that it had miscarried, and 
bitterly regretted taking the matter in hand. Then one 
man carne up gruntingly and began cursing and swearing 
as soon as he saw us. He did that because he was afraid. 
I feared the worst. On his shoulders there was one 
single great lump of silver and nothing else, and as he 
clambered out to where we stood he tilted it with a 
dull thud to the ground, and said sullenly that that was 
the only thing left, and that others had been there before 
us. He repeated this several times, so that there should 
be no mistake; there was only this enormous piece of 
silver and nothing else. The smiles left everybody's 
face. Never have I seen such a sudden change. How- 
ever, to me it was kismet. . . . 

In some trepidation we at length approached L 

and told him what had been said, and then there 
was another storm. He said that it was impossible 
that there must be some mistake that the men had said 
that the bullion was there, and there it must be. As he 
spoke his anger rose again, and coming up and kicking 
the massive silver ingot, he asked again and again in a 
few words of French, which I believe he had learned 



408 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

especially for the occasion, "Mais ou est I'or? mats ou 
est I'or?" It was almost pitiful to hear him repeat these 
words again and again like a child. He believed we 
were cheating him. . . . 

The position had now become suddenly ridiculous, and 
I did not know what to do. Every one soon took up 

L 's attitude, and felt that they had been cheated 

by some one. Indeed, they afcted as if they had lost 
valued possessions. They all clambered around me, and 
said that it was disgraceful, and that something should 
be done to punish the men who had brought the false 
information. They became so excited that it was neces- 
sary to create a diversion by going down into that hole 
ourselves to see exactly what it meant. That proved 
the last straw. 

It was the dirtiest and most uncomfortable descent I 
have ever made. Sliding down through those piles of 
sacks led one to a false floor, some planks of which had 
been forced up by the Chinese informants. Beneath 
this was a short ladder, and, stepping down, one found 
one's self in an immense underground chamber. The 
air was so thick and dank here that it was almost impos- 
sible to breathe, and in the flickering light of the candles 
we could just see a confused mass of chests and boxes 
ranged round. Every one of these had been battered 
open. The cunning Japanese must have been there first 
and taken everything. Alone that big lump of silver 
had been left because of its weight. 

But there was something I missed. These ku-ping had 
been emphatic about the valuable weights we would find 
hidden the standard weights of China in pure gold, 
which were centuries old, they said, and were the same 
as had been used during the Ming dynasty hundreds 



THE FEW REMAINS 409 

of years before. I asked for them where were they 
kept? Perhaps we might at least have these. 

Alas ! they led me to a smaller chamber, with a curious 
little door formed of a single slab of stone, and pointed 
once again disconsolately to more rifled boxes. These 
outer chests covered smaller boxes, which were of the 
size of the weights themselves. I had always heard that 
the biggest weight of all was a square block of gold 
equal to the weight of a full-grown man. I would like to 
have seen that, but everything was gone. It was useless 
wasting any more time. 

We came up again carrying some of those silk-lined 
boxes as explanations and souvenirs. But our friends 
were now all standing round some soldiers, who had 
accidentally knocked aside some flags of stone, and had 
found a deep hole underneath. They were now jerking 
away violently at some last obstruction, and finally they 
swept aside everything and bared some steep steps. As 
we stood wondering what had been discovered, and our 
hopes were almost revived, far down below appeared 
a grimy face, and a man at last ran up, rapidly exclaim- 
ing from surprise, as he mounted to the surface. It 
was one of our Chinese informants ! Then suddenly we 
saw the point, and in spite of our discomfiture began 
laughing. The soldiers of the fatigue parties, slower 
than us to understand, at length followed our example; 
then the hundreds of small Chinese boys ; then every one 
else, until we were all laughing. For we had been fooled 
and well fooled by those clever little Japanese. When 
they had seized the Treasury, they had not only dis- 
covered the general stores of silver, but had managed 
to find this hidden entrance or some other near by. 
Without any trouble they had gone down and taken 



410 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

everything, swept the place clean, and left, probably as 
a supreme sarcasm, that one enormous lump of black- 
ened silver. . . . We were indeed well sold. It was 
immense. 

At that particular moment I do not think any one was 
very bitter at this absurd anti-climax after those great ex- 
pectations. That is, excepting the old general. Some- 
how, he became convinced by our preparations that there 
would be much gold found as a just reward. Now once 
again he accused us all of making a fool of him, of 
knowing from the beginning that it was a wild-goose 
chase. I thought sarcastically about his telegram and 
the desire he had had in the first place to haggle about 
the terms ; and I let him mutter on. It is always the one 
who laughs last who laughs best. I made a little plan. 

We retired from the Chinese Treasury with rather in- 
decent haste. L did not even look at the guard 

which turned out as we passed the entrance. When we 
had entered they had hurrahed him, and hoped that his 
health was good, in a chorus after their custom; and he 
had made a little speech in return, trusting that his chil- 
dren were also well ! It was amusing if you happened 
to be able to appreciate that kind of wit. Most of my 
companions, however, did not. And yet with the clouds 
of dust which had settled on us and covered us from 
head to foot with dirt it was impossible to look even 
dignified with success. And all my friends, who had 
been so cordial and admiring in the morning, how cold 
and distant they had become ! They had not made any- 
thing was not that a sufficient excuse for any be- 
haviour? 

Somehow news of this expedition must have leaked out 
everywhere through the indiscretion of confident busy- 



THE FEW REMAINS 411 

bodies, until everybody knew about it, for we kept on 
meeting men riding across our road as if by chance, and 
asking what luck we had had. This made the com- 
panions I had gathered more furious than ever, and at 
the last moment, as we parted, I could not restrain 
myself. I rode up to one of the staff officers who had 
been the most officious and the most offensive, and 
begged him not to forget to remind the general that he 
had a duty to perform. An account must be telegraphed 
at once to Alexieff ! That was the last word the very 
last. 



vni 

THE PALSY REMAINS 

September, 1900. 

* ' 

I have now ridden to every point of the compass in the 
city, and even beyond, and I have inspected everything 
with a critical eye. It is wonderful how things shape 
themselves. There are now some portions of the city 
that are reasonably peaceful even at night, and where 
even women can come forth and walk openly about; 
others that are quiet on the surface and yet throw up 
mad things at all hours ; and lastly, there are those where 
riot and disorder still reign supreme. Some people esti- 
mate that half or even three quarters of the native popu- 
lation have fled, and that this accounts for the curious 
silence which now reigns, only to be broken by the noise 
of marauders or marching troops. Yet I do not believe 
that so many of the population have really fled; many 
people remain half hidden in quiet spots, where, packed 
dozens and dozens in a single house, they tremulously 
await the return of happier days. The Chinese, I 
sometimes think, of all peoples of this earth must have 
their historic sense enormously developed. Thousands 
of years of civil wars and countless endless sieges have 
placed them in the dilemma of to-day more often than 
it is possible to say. Only fifty years ago the Taipings 
made whole provinces suffer the way Peking has now 
suffered. . . . Such things must live in the blood of a 
people and never be quite forgotten. . . . 



THE PALSY REMAINS 413 

You muse like this very often when you ride out and 
meet lumbering military trains going back to Tientsin, 
laden with countless chests of loot. What immense 
quantities of things have been taken ! Every place of 
importance, indeed, has been picked as clean as a bone. 
Now that the road is well open, dozens of amateurs, too, 
from the ends of the earth have been pouring in to buy 
up everything they can. The armies have thus become 
mere bands of traders eternally selling or exchanging, 
comparing or pricing, transporting or shipping. Every 
man of them wishes to know whether there is a fortune 
in a collection of old porcelain or merely a competence, 
and whether it is true that a long robe of Amur River 
sables, when the furs are perfect and undyed, fetch so 
many hundreds of pounds on the London market. There 
are official military auctions going on everywhere, where 
huge quantities of furs and silks and other things come 
under the hammer. Yet it is noticed that the very best 
things always disappear before they can be publicly 
sold. A phrase has been invented to meet the case. 
"Cherchez le general" people say. 

Even with these sales the stocks never seem to sink 
lower. There are always fresh finds being made seiz- 
ures made officially by an officer or two with a few files 
of men so that there may be some reasonable excuse to 
offer to those who persist in remaining mulishly prudish. 
These new finds are, of course, called treasures-trove. 
They are good words. Looting has officially ceased; is, 
indeed, forbidden under the most severe penalties. That 
is why it is being systematised and made open and re- 
spectable. It is in the blood. You cannot escape It ; it still 
follows you everywhere, no matter how far away you go. 

Listen to this. I rode some days ago into the Imperial 



414 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

city in order to climb the famous Mei Shan, or Coal 
Hill, built, according to ancient tradition, so that when 
some immense disaster overwhelmed the ruling dynasty, 
it might be lighted and consume in its flames the whole 
Imperial family. That is the tradition that the hill is 
an immense funeral pyre. (Nowadays, however, ruling 
dynasties are so human that they merely run away.) All 
the way up that historic hill I was followed by the whin- 
ing voices of disappointed looters. A battalion of the 
French troops, which came straight from Europe a week 
or so too late for the relief, was in garrison at the base 
of this eminence, and French soldiers escorted me to the 
top, probably under orders to see that I did not try and 
chip off the gold-leaf which is reputed to line the roofs 
of the pavilions. You can never be quite certain for 
what reason you are watched by rival nationalities now. 

It was a long climb to the top, up winding steps that 
never ceased and through little pavilions which looked 
out on the scene below. A final flight of stairs at last 
introduced you into a structure which crowned the 
whole. From here the view was magnificent. Right 
below you you could see far into the Palace and inspect 
the marble bridges, the lotus-covered sheets of water 
and all the other things of the Imperial plaisaunce. 
Farther on, the city of Peking spread out in huge ex- 
panses hemmed in only miles away by the grey tracing 
of the city walls and the high-standing towers. Farther 
again were waving fields with uncut crops rotting as 
they stood, because all the country people had fled to 
escape the vengeance. On the very horizon line were 
dark hills. The view was indeed immense and wonder- 
ful. 

I stood lost a little in this contemplation, and forgot 



THE PALSY REMAINS 415 

the attendants who had so persistently followed me, un- 
til suddenly their voices rose in a dispute which was pur- 
posely loud so that it should engage my attention. At 
last, as the stratagem had failed, and I did not turn, a 
soldier bolder than his comrades pushed up to me, and 
saluting politely enough, said that they had a few things 
to sell, although they had had hard luck and had found 
Peking almost empty. Indeed, before showing me any- 
thing, they complained bitterly of the men from Tonkin, 
who were no better than disciplinary battalions and who 
got everything because they had come with the first 
columns. This they called cruelly unjust. Then from 
their pockets and tunics these men began producing their 
little articles de vertu. They made me laugh at first, 
for they had systematised so much that each man's pos- 
session had a ticket attached, with the price in francs 
clearly marked. That was good commercialism brought 
straight from France. 

They were, however, only the usual things watches, 
rings, snuff-boxes, hair-ornaments, curios of minor value, 
and a few stones of bad colour. But the men crowded 
round me and extolled their wares like the hucksters of 
Europe, and beseeched me to buy in a most anxious man- 
ner. They would sell cheap, very cheap, they confessed, 
at the present moment, because they had just learned 
that an order had been issued to search all their kits 
and to turn over the finds to a common fund. Rumours 
had spread to Europe, they said it was the first I had 
heard of it of the dark things which had been going 
on, and the generals were becoming alarmed. . . . 

Fortunately I had with me some gold coin, and for a 
mere song I purchased everything. I did not want to do 
so, but already experience has taught us that it is best to 



416 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

buy when you are alone and no help near by, otherwise 
your pockets may be turned out and everything taken 
without an excuse. That happened to a man in the Ger- 
man Legation. 

I climbed down from the famous Coal Hill, thinking 
very little of the renowned view. I wondered merely 
when it was all going to end, and how normal conditions 
were going to come. I wandered, thinking in this man- 
ner, over the famous marble bridge, that delicate, de- 
lightful tracing of stone which so charmingly crosses an 
artificial lake thick with swaying lotus. I turned this 
way and that, not thinking very much where I was 
going; and presently, on my way back, walked past the 
Little Detached Palace, where, they say, the Emperor 
was imprisoned after the 1898 coup d'etat. Here there 
was a curious sight, which brought back my wandering 
attention. French and English soldiers divided the 
honour of guarding this Palace entrance. Rival sentries 
stood only ten or fifteen feet away from one another and 
jealously watched to see that this prize was not secretly 
seized. The British regiment had the actual gates; it 
seemed that the French had posted themselves so close 
merely to watch. I passed these lines of sentries and 
wandered along, only to be accosted once more as soon 
as I was in a quiet alley. I soon found that this man and 
his mates were more cunning than those with whom I had 
had previously to deal and that some time must elapse 
before a bargain could be struck. They wasted time 
ascertaining who I was, and only hinted at good things 
not the usual watches and rings, they said, but really 
things worth their weight in pure gold. Then one man 
tempted me deliberately with an abrupt movement which 
reminded me of the way the sellers of obscene playing- 



THE PALSY REMAINS 417 

cards in Paris disclose to the unsuspecting stranger their 
wares. He drew from his tunic a little wooden box, 
opened it quickly, and laid bare a most exquisite Louis 
XV. gold belt-buckle, set in diamonds and rubies, and 
beautifully painted. I, who knew a little of Manchu 
history, understood that belt-buckle. It must have been 
one of the countless presents made during the early days 
of the Jesuits in Peking, when they almost controlled 
the destinies of the Empire. It was a priceless relic. 

Of course I succumbed. Such things have an inter- 
national value, and were not merely the sordid pickings 
from deserted private dwellings. Who would not rob a 
fleeing Emperor of his possessions? 

After this we went into the English camp unostenta- 
tiously, and by some means men came forward from no- 
where, and without greeting or superfluous words 
showed me what they had. The English are good 
traders; they never waste their words; and as I looked 
I thought of the anguish which the patrons of the Hotel 
Drouot or Christie's would have felt could they have 
seen this marvellous collection. For these common men 
had made one of such taste and value that there could 
be no doubt where the things had been obtained. Every 
piece was good and a century or two old. There were 
enamels and miniatures which must have lain undis- 
turbed for countless years watching the Manchu Em- 
perors come and go. There were beautiful stones and 
snuff-boxes, and many other things. There might be 
none of the black pearls of General Montauban, Comte 
de Palikao, that had delighted the Empress Eugenie 
half a century ago, but there were objets de vertu such 
as duchesses love. 

In the end, I, too, became commercial and arranged 



418 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

that some men should come and find me that same even- 
ing, bringing as much as they could carry of the spoils 
they had amassed. They were to be paid in gold coin 
or in gold bars just as I pleased, weight for weight, and 
a quarter in my favour. That was soon settled. In the 
evening the men duly came, not the few I had supposed, 
but so many that they filled my courtyards, yet manag- 
ing to remain curiously silent. For them an important 
turning-point had been reached; they would make small 
fortunes if the thing went through successfully. With 
scales in front of me and gold alongside, we weighed 
and calculated unendingly weight for weight, with 
that one quarter in my favour. It took two hours and 
more, for these common men were very careful, and 
everything had to be written down and recorded with 
strange marks and numbers, denoting the private di- 
vision of profits which would afterwards follow. In the 
end everything was finished with and bought. Then the 
men stood up and shook themselves as if they had been 
bathed in a perspiration of anxiety, and the spokesman, 
a dark man with a quick tongue, which showed that he 
had not always been a soldier, thanked me curtly. When 
they had drunk, at my request, he explained to me how 
it was done. There was something dramatic in the way 
he described. It was so simple. I recorded what he 
said so as not to forget. "When it's dark," he said, in 
a low voice, with no introduction, * there's only the 
picquets. They have everything to themselves except- 
ing that the Frenchies are just alongside. The Frenchies 
watch us close, but we watch them closer, and there's 
always a way. Rounds are not kept up the whole night, 
for everything is slack now, and when they are finished 
the fun begins. The reliefs, lying on the ground, strip 



THE PALSY REMAINS 419 

off everything so that they can crawl like snakes and that 
no one can get hold of them. They crawl in through 
holes, over walls, with never a match or a light to show 
them how. In the end they get inside." The man 
laughed a little hoarsely, spat, and again went on. 

"The palace they call the Little Detached Palace will 
soon be picked clean clean as any dog's bone, with the 
Frenchies only fifteen feet off, and you'll get nothing 
more from there. Sometimes the Frenchies suspect and 
want to march right in on us, but our corporals are wait- 
ing, and are ready for them, and our bayonets stop them 
short. Twice it's happened that their officers march a 
guard right up to the gates of the Little Detached, and 
want to stay there all night with our fellows crawling 
about inside. They suspected. But we bluffed them 
away every time, and now that all the good things are 
gone we are carrying away the big ones vases, small 
tables, carvings, jars, bowls everything. We wrap them 
up in a bundle of great-coats and feed-bags in the morn- 
ing, and carry them away; no one's ever the wiser. All 
round the Palace they are doing the same. The 
Yankees, the Russians, and all of them are in -the same 
boat. All night they climb the walls to get the swag. 
Give them another six months and there will be nothing 
left." 

Thus spoke the spokesman of the party. It was organ- 
ised plundering, and everybody winked at it. After 
they had gone I sat long and reflected. This was the 
retribution and the vengeance. We were all tarred with 
the same brush ; we were returning to primitive methods. 
Yet, what could be done what steps could be taken? 
It was rather a hopeless tangle, and once more I gave 
it up. 



IX 

DRIFTING 

September, 1900. 



There is not a single scrap of news worth recording, 
although telegrams are now coming through more and 
more freely by the field telegraphs from Europe. Still, 
no one knows what is going to happen. As an apprecia- 
tion of the astute action of the Court in fleeing at the last 
second of the eleventh hour becomes more and more 
general, people begin to see how absurd we have become 
with our avenging armies which were going to do so 
much, and are now merely traders collecting and valuing 
and slowly taking away the best loot of the capital. The 
troops effected the relief, it is true; but there should 
have been other steps. If these are now taken it is too 
late. Some, indeed, say that punitive expeditions are 
going to be sent into the country as soon as a transport 
service can be organised. Even now nests of Boxers 
and disbanded soldiers are reported in great numbers 
only a few miles beyond Peking. These men seem to 
understand that they are quite safe even so close as this 
to the European corps, and that ample warning will be 
conveyed to them directly there is any movement, so as 
to allow them to escape. They, too, are now pillaging 
and setting fire far and wide. Cossacks and other cav- 
alry are supposed to be out many miles beyond Peking, 



DRIFTING 421 

sweeping the country, and blowing up or setting fire to 
temples and rich country-seats as a warning to others 
of the fate which may overtake all for harbouring evil- 
doers. Yet even this is done on no system. It is irreso- 
lute, foolish. A day or two ago, from the top of the 
Tartar Wall, where I was idly sitting, I saw a huge pil- 
lar of smoke roll up on the horizon ten or fifteen mites 
away, and gradually spread farther and farther. The 
air was very still, for the heat can still be baking in the 
midday of this autumn month, and that smoke hung on 
the skies like some funeral palL Into the hearts of a 
whole country-side it must have struck a blind terror, 
for the peasants still believe that they are all to die as 
soon as the troops move out. The panic is thus only 
being added to; and a sort of blind scourging of people 
who may not be in the least guilty can never be of use. 
There is also still the same palsy on every one and every- 
thing in Peking. No one really knows what is going to 
happen. No one very much cares. They say that this is 
being debated in Europe, and that there are divided 
counsels which may bring about a split and really turn 
the various corps now nominally allied to one another 
into active enemies, as I dream when I see those jealous 
guards at the Palace entrances. . . . 

Yesterday some Chinese whom I had known in the old 
days came stealthily to see me, and as soon as they were 
alone with me, without excuse or warning, they fell on 
their knees and began bitterly weeping. How sad, in- 
deed, they were, these respectable people of the Chinese 
bourgeoisie so sad that for a long time I could not per- 
suade them to speak. Yet even as they wept they were 
dignified in a curious way, and you felt that you were 



422 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

in the presenceof men who had onlybeen cruelly wronged. 
At length they began speaking. They had lost every- 
thing, absolutely everything, they said, what with the 
Boxers and the sack, all this long, unending Reign of 
Terror. But that they did not mind. They were bitter 
and beyond consolation because they had lost the in- 
tangible their honour. Each one had had women of 
their households violated. One, with many hideous 
details, told me how . . . soldiers came in and violated 
all his womankind, young and old. That account, mut- 
tered to me with trembling lips, was no invention. Their 
blanched and haggard faces showed that it was only the 
truth they were speaking. About such elemental trage- 
dies no one lies. 

I tried to comfort these poor men as best I could. I 
told them old sayings which had once been familiar to 
me ; it was hard to know really what to do. Yet they 
at length became more philosophic, and said they under- 
stood that this was a visitation which the nation had 
deserved. China had been utterly wrong; it had been 
madness. Then they remained silent, and that silence 
was like a sermon straight from Heaven, both for them 
and for me. I saw dimly for a few seconds many 
things, and understood that it was useless saying more. 
But as they were wretchedly poor, I gave them silver 
from the rich men's houses, which seemed very Biblical 
each man as much as he could carry and told them 
that they could always come for more. I asked them 
also to tell all the people I had known to come, too ; I 
would do as much as I could for all of them. So all 
to-day they have been coming, and I have showered 
largesse. A few households have thus some relief, but 
the last man who came told me that a Hanlin scholar, 



DRIFTING 423 

who was his neighbour a learned man, who in the 
times of peace was courted by all is now selling 
wretched little cakes down the side alleys so to save him- 
self and his few remaining relations from slow starva- 
tion. Such things are the dregs. It is too much. , . . 



X 

PICKING UP THREADS 

September, 1900. 



I suppose in some subtle way the conviction is being 
gradually forced home that something must really be 
done to try and ameliorate the general situation. It 
could obviously not go on forever in this way, with the 
commanders of the rival columns almost fighting among 
themselves, and with everybody quietly looting, and our 
Ministers, who have lost so much, just twiddling their 
thumbs and delaying their departure because they are 
afraid of worse things happening. So somebody has 
been getting into communication with whoever repre- 
sents the last vestiges of Chinese authority in this ruined 
capital, and diligent search has discovered that there are 
actually a few high officials left and a great number of 
smaller ones. These have all shown a trembling haste 
to oblige; and after some pourparlers, there is now a 
faint possibility of a modus vivendi being arranged 
during the next few weeks. 

For it soon transpired, after the confidence of these 
remaining officials had been gained, that Prince Ching 
had been discreetly dropped by the fleeing Court only 
about fifty miles to the southwest of Peking dropped 
just behind the first mountain barriers, so that he was at 
once safe and yet within easy call. He had been in 
waiting there for weeks, it appears. Sage old man! 



PICKING UP THREADS 425 

Those conciliatory despatches, corning from the officers 
of the defunct Tsung-li Yamen, have made of this old 
Manchu prince the natural person to bridge over the 
ever-widening gulf the Court has dug by its insanity. 
People remember now that this procedure of leaving 
behind a Prince to begin the first pourparlers is only the 
precedent of 1860. Then Prince Kung played exactly 
the same role when the Court had fled to JehoL 

Prince Ching fenced a long time before he would move 
forward, or even disclose his safe hiding-place ; but in the 
end he was prevailed upon by some one. And yesterday 
he actually entered Peking through the same Northern 
Gates which witnessed the mad flight of the Court a 
month ago. 

Many rode out to see this entry, half expecting some- 
thing spectacular, which would give them a change 
of thought. But they were grievously disappointed. 
Prince Ching merely appeared in a sedan chair, looking 
very old and very white, and with his cortege closely 
surrounded by Japanese cavalry, whose drawn swords 
gave the great man the appearance of a prisoner rather 
than that of an Envoy. Every Chinese official, large 
and small, in the city came out on this occasion for the 
first time since the troops burst in; and sitting in what 
carts they could find, and clothed in the remains of their 
official clothes, they paid their Manchu dignitary their 
trembling respects. What terror these wretched men 
exhibited until they actually met the Prince, and saw 
that there was going to be no treachery of shooting down 
by ignorant soldiery! For a whole month every one 
of them had been living disguised in the most humble 
clothes, escaping over back walls directly news was 
brought that marauders were at their front doors; offer- 



426 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

ing their very women up so as to escape themselves; 
living in all truth the most wretched lives. Hourly they 
had expected to be denounced by enemies to the Euro- 
pean commanders as ex-Boxer chiefs, and then to be sum- 
marily shot. That is what had happened for miles round 

Monseigneur F 's cathedral, it is being whispered. 

The native Catholics, having died in hundreds, and lost 
whole families of relatives, had revenged themselves as 
cruelly as only men who have been between life and 
death for many weeks do. They had led French soldiers 
into every suspected household, and pointing out the 
man on whom rumour had fixed some small blame, they 
had exacted vengeance. Even on this day of Prince 
Ching's entry this search and revenge was still going 
on; there were so many scores to pay. . . . 

It was plain to me that every official was thinking of 
these things, for the little convoys that I watched all day 
wending their way to the north of the city represented 
petrified fear in forms that I hope I may never see again. 
I stopped one cart, all bedecked with flags German 
flags, English flags, Russian flags, French flags, Jap- 
anese flags, every kind of flag, to help to protect from all 
possible injury merely to inquire at what hour pre- 
cisely Prince Ching would arrive and where he was 
going to live. What a result these questions had ! In- 
stantly he heard my voice, the official inside the cart 
crawled half out with a deathly green pallor on his face, 
and with his whole body trembling so violently that I 
thought he would collapse for good. As it was, he re- 
mained in a sort of stricken attitude, like a man who has 
been stunned. He was quite speechless. I called to him 
several times that all was well, that he would not be 
hurt, to calm himself. ., * In vain. Every word I 



PICKING UP THREADS 427 

spoke only added to his terror and remained unin- 
telligible because of his panic. He was a lost soul 
for ever. The iron had entered too deeply. He was so 
smitten that he never could be cured. 

His outriders, who had swung themselves from their 
saddles, at last bowed to me. They were a little pale, 
but quite collected. "Excellency," they said, "forgive 
him; it is not his fault. He has been frightened into 
semi-insanity." "Hsia hu-tu-lo" they said. Yes, that is 
the phrase, frightened into semi-lunacy. They are em- 
ploying this for every one. The tragedy has been so 
immense, the strain has been endured for so many 
months, there has been so much of it, that all minds 
excepting those of the common people have become a 
little unhinged. Half the time you speak to men you 
are not understood ; they look at you with staring eyes, 
wondering whether the rifle or the bayonet is to follow 
the question. It is past curing for the time being. 

Meanwhile Prince Ching has got in safely, and has 
been given a big residence, which is closely guarded by 
the Japanese. Perhaps the modus vivendi will after all 
be arranged. 



XI 

THE IMPOSSIBLE 

3<Dth September, 1900. 



Prince Ching has been here a number of days now 
I have not even taken the trouble to note how many 
but still nothing has been done. They say that half the 
Powers refuse to treat with him until things are better 
arranged, and that the Russians have already raised 
insuperable difficulties because they say the Japanese 
have the big Manchu in their pocket. Others argue that 
expeditions must really be launched against a number 
of cities in Northern China, where hideous atrocities 
have been committed, and where missionaries and con- 
verts were butchered in countless numbers during the 
Boxer reign. Until these expeditions have marched and 
had their revenge, there can be no treating. There must 
be more killing, more blood. That is what people say. 

The fleeing Court has reached Taiyuanfu, it is reliably 
reported. This is three hundred miles away, but the 
Court does not yet feel safe; it is going farther west, 
straight on to Hsianfu, the capital of Shensi province, 
which is seven hundred miles away. That is a big gulf 
to bridge ; yet if there is any advance of European corps 
in that direction, already Chinese say that tKe Empress 
will flee into the terribly distant Kansu province per- 
haps to Langchou, which is another four hundred miles 
inland; perhaps even to Kanchau or Suchau, which are 



THE IMPOSSIBLE 429 

five hundred miles nearer Central Asia. These cities, 
lying at the very southwestern extremity of the Great 
Wall of China, look out over the vast steppes of Mon- 
golia, where there are nothing but Mongols belonging 
to many hordes, who live in the saddle and drive their 
flocks of sheep and their herds of ponies in front of 
them, forever moving. It is nearly two thousand miles 
in all; no European armies could ever follow, not in 
five years. They would slowly melt away on that long, 
interminable road. With such a line of retreat open the 
Court is absolutely safe, and knows it. It can act as it 
pleases. 

Prince Ching is so miserably poor, they say, and has 
so little of the things he most needs, that he has been 
forced to borrow looted sycee from corps commanders 
and to give orders on the Southern Treaty ports in pay- 
ment. It is an extraordinary situation. 

A number of little expeditions have already been 
pushed out forty, fifty, and even sixty miles into the 
country, feeling for any remnants of the Chinese armies 
which may remain. I went with one of these faute de 
mieux, as Peking has become so gloomy, and there is 
so little to do that it fills one with an immense nostalgia 
to remain and continually to contemplate the ruins and 
devastation, from which there can be no escape. 

Never shall I regret that little expedition into the rude 
hills and mountains, where climbs in wonderful manner 
the Great Wall of China. It was divine. There was a 
sense of freedom and of openness which no one who has 
not been a prisoner in a siege can ever experience. In 
the morning, sweet-throated cavalry trumpets sounded 
a reveille, which floated over hill and dale so chastely 
and calmly that one wished they might never stop. How 



430 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

those notes floated and trembled in the air, as grey day- 
light was gently stealing up, and how good the brown 
earth smelt ! I almost forget the other kind of trumpet 
that cruel Chinese trumpet which only shrieks and 
roars. 

Each day we rode farther and farther away, and higher 
and higher, beating the ground and examining the vil- 
lages, from which whole populations had fled, to see that 
no enemy was secretly lurking. Travelling in this wise, 
and presently climbing ever higher and higher, we came 
at last to little mountain burgs, with great thick outer 
walls and tall watch-towers, where in olden days the 
marauders from the Mongolian plains were held in 
check until help could be summoned from the country 
below. It was r. wonderful experience to travel along 
unaccustomed paths and to come on endless ruined 
bastions and ivy-clad gates, which closed every ingress 
from Mongolia. Once these defences must have been 
of enormous strength. 

One night, after journeying for a long time, we camped 
in one of these little mountain burgs, taking full pos- 
session, so that there should be no treachery while it was 
dark. The night passed quietly, for even fifty miles 
beyond Peking the terror lies heavy on the land, and in 
the morning we wandered to the massive iron-clad gates 
and the tall watch-towers which stood sentinel on either 
side to see if there was anything to be had. How old 
these were, how very old ! For, mounting the staircase 
leading to the towers, we found that, although the rude 
rooms beneath showed signs of having been recently 
occupied, the stone steps which led to the roof-chambers 
were covered with enormous cobwebs and great layers 
of dust, showing that nothing had been disturbed for 



THE IMPOSSIBLE 431 

very many years. That was as it should be. At the 
very top of one tower we discovered a locked door, and 
beating it in amid showers of dust, we penetrated a 
room such as a witch of mediaeval Europe would dearly 
have loved. Nothing but cobwebs, dust, flapping, grey- 
yellow paper and decay. It was immensely old. 

And yet we found something. For there were some 
chests hidden away, and prizing these open, we discov- 
ered great books of yellow parchment, so old and so 
sodden that they fell to pieces as soon as one touched 
them. They were in some Mongol or Manchu script. 
They, too, were centuries old. But there was something 
else a great discovery. Beneath the books we found 
helmets, inlaid with silver and gold and embellished 
with black velvet trappings studded with little iron knobs. 
There were also complete suits of chain armour. 
It seemed to us in that early morning that we were sud- 
denly discovering the Middle Ages, perhaps even the 
Dark Ages. For these things were not even early 
Manchu ; they were Mongol ; Mogul the war-dress of 
conquerors whose bodies had been rotting in the dust 
for five, six, seven, eight, or even nine centuries. These 
relics had lain there undisturbed for all this time because 
China has been merely tilling the fields and neglecting 
everything else. In a curious mood we donned these 
suits and went down below clad as the conquerors of 
old. 

There were some Indian troopers waiting, and when 
they saw these things they exclaimed and muttered ex- 
citedly to one another, casting half -startled looks. These 
were the same trappings and war-dresses as in the days 
of theGreat Moguls at Delhi. The very same. The con- 
querors who had swept across high Asia had worn such 



432 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

things, and every man from Northern India must have 
understood their meaning and message. As they looked 
the Indian troopers chattered and talked to one another 
in a growing excitement. It seemed as if we had sud- 
denly dug up some links of the half-forgotten past which 
showed how the chain of armed men had been tightly 
bound by Genghis Khan and Batu Khan, and all the 
other great Khans, from the Great Wall of China all 
round Northern and Central Asia, until it had reached 
down over the Himalayas into India. It was very 
curious. 

When we had finished this reconnaissance, which 
carried us in every direction under the shadow of the 
Great Wall, we turned bridle and made back towards 
Peking by another route. A day's march away from 
the capital, word was brought us that there were still 
numbers of disbanded soldiery and suspected Boxers hid- 
ing in the Nan-Hai-tsu a great Imperial Hunting Park, 
which had fallen into decay during the present century. 
We would have to sweep this park, which was dozens of 
miles broad and quite wild, and scatter any bands we 
might find. So starting after midnight, we marched hard 
in the gloom for several hours with native guides leading 
us, and daylight found us under the encircling wall of 
the ancient hunting-ground. We halted there a bit and 
refreshed ourselves quickly, and then galloped in 
through a breach. There were miles upon miles of 
beautiful grass stretches, and we and our mounts were 
fairly pumped before we saw or heard anything. But 
towards midday we came on some tiny hills and a few 
low buildings, which seemed suspicious, and no sooner 
had we approached than a whole nest of men rushed out 
on us, firing and shouting as they ran. Some had only 



THE IMPOSSIBLE 433 

huge lances made of bamboo, fifteen feet and more 
long, and tipped with iron and with little red pennons 
fluttering ; yet these were the most effective of all. Wav- 
ing these lances violently, and holding them in such 
a manner that it was impossible to get near, these men 
scattered our charge before it got home and unhorsed a 
number of troopers. Then it became a general melee, 
which ended in the killing or capture of a few of the 
enemy and the rapid escape of the remainder- 
Very late in the evening we rode into Peking with our 
helmets and our coats of mail and our long lances as 
trophies. The capital seemed terribly listless and 
oppressed after the country beyond, and I was bitterly 
sorry that expedition had not lasted for weeks and 

months, 



XII 

SUSPENSE 

October, 1900. 



Another month has come and there has been practically 
no change. They say now Prince Ching has no power 
to treat, and that he is a mere Japanese prisoner. 
Li Hung Chang is in Tientsin, too, it appears. He is to 
be the other plenipotentiary when negotiations really 
commence, but for the time being he is the Russian cap- 
tive. The Russians have him surrounded with their 
troops, and no one but a favoured few may even see 
him. Already there has been trouble with the British 
on this score at Tientsin, and some people say that some 
pretext will be seized to bring about an international 
crisis among the expeditionary corps. They are fighting 
about the destroyed railway up to Peking already. Vari- 
ous people are claiming the right to rebuild the line, and 
refuse to give up the sections they have garrisoned. 
Everywhere there are pretty complications in the air. 

Meanwhile, in Peking itself things have become more 
and more quiet, and as the policing is slowly improving, 
confidence is a little restored. But still new troops are 
being marched in all the time notably German troops 
and as soon as night closes down all these men fall to 
looting and outraging in any way they can. They say 
that the Kaiser, in his farewell speech to his first con- 
tingent, before Peking had been heard of for weeks, 



SUSPENSE 435 

told the men to act In this way. They are strictly obey- 
ing orders. Even the officers of the new troops take a 
hand in this looting in a modified way. They force their 
way into the remains of the curio shops, take the few 
pieces which are left, place a dollar or so on the counter 
and then walk out. This makes a legitimate purchase. 

In the Japanese district, which is now the best policed 
and the most tranquil, shops are being reopened, but are 
now being panic-stricken by this new procedure. It is 
the refinement of the game, and there is no redress pos- 
sible. Beyond this I know not of a thing worth the 
mentioning. 



XIII 
STILL DRIFTING 

October, 1900. 



There is, after all, to be no Immediate peace that 
seems now quite certain. We hear that the Russians 
have invaded all Manchuria and are strengthening their 
hold there by bringing in more and more troops from the 
Amur districts. They say, too, that the French have 
crossed the Tonkin frontier. But really accurately we 
know nothing very much of what is being done. With 
sixty or seventy thousand soldiery suddenly flung down 
on the ruined stretch of country between Peking and the 
sea, everything has been put in the most horrible con- 
fusion. You can get nothing, nor hear anything. Tele- 
grams are the only things which are coming through 
with any regularity, and even these are cut to pieces by 
the field telegraphs or continually getting lost. The 
mails, it is true, have at last arrived, but they are all 
mixed in such a way, and there is such old correspon- 
dence heaped on top of the new, that general instructions 
and the proposals made read in this way seem to be the 
ravings of madmen. There are hundreds of despatches 
of April, May, and June, showing the calibre of some 
Foreign Offices in an unmistakable way. I sometimes 
wonder if only the fools are left in the home offices. 

Still, after a good many headaches, one can begin to 
appreciate the general plan which was finally settled on 



STILL DRIFTING 437 

by the various Chancelleries, and to understand what 
delayed the relief so much. Most of all it has been the 
South African war. Also, it seems to me, they wanted 
Waldersee, the German Field Marshal, to have time to 
take over the supreme command for the sake of peace 
in Asia, and so that there should be an enormous massed 
advance on Peking, which would capture all North 
China to Christendom and enslave the cunning old 
Empress Dowager, and do everything as arranged in 
Europe. It was, above all, necessary not to cause an 
imbroglio in Europe. 

Of course, the very opposite has happened, and every- 
body is now as discontented and jealous as before the 
siege. Waldersee is in Tientsin and has been there for 
weeks for some new decision to be made. The grand 
advance is finished and done with, but now some column 
commanders wish to push down into the south of the 
province and isolate the Court, if possible. Meetings 
are being held the whole time, but as Waldersee is 
coming up, nothing is to be done until his arrival. By 
one ingenious stroke the sudden flight of the Court 
the Chinese have turned the tables on allied Europe and 
made us all ridiculous. Any one might have anticipated 
something of this there is a precedent in the histories. 
Yet history is only made to be immediately forgotten. 



XIV 

PUNITIVE EXPEDITIONS 

October, 1900. 



At length Waldersee has arrived. He made a sort 
of entry which seemed to me farcical. I only noticed 
that he was very old, and that the hats that have been 
served out to the special German expeditionary corps 
are absurd. They are made of straw and are shaped 
after the manner of the Colonial hats used in South 
Africa. They have also a cockade of the German 
colours sewn to the turned-up edge. This must be some 
Berlin tailor's idea of an appropriate head-dress for a 
summer and autumn campaign in the East. The hat 
is quite useless, and had it been a month earlier all the 
men would certainly have died of sunstroke. 

Of course, now with Waldersee in Peking, something 
more has to be done, and the rumour is to-day that the 
Court has begun fleeing yet farther to the West. The 
rulers of China are being kept accurately informed of 
every move by some one, and any indication of a pursuit 
will see them penetrate farther and farther towards the 
vast regions of Central Asia. It seems to me that it 
would be almost amusing (would not the consequences 
be so tragic) to begin this pursuit and really to attempt to 
push the Court so far away that it finally lost touch with 
all the rest of China. Then something beneficial to 
every one might come. An ultimatum, to which atten- 



PUNITIVE EXPEDITIONS 439 

tion would be paid, might be served, and guarantees 
exacted which would do service for a number of years. 
At present the flight has done no harm whatever to 
China. The Court is not even ridiculous in the eyes of 
the populace. It is merely terribly unfortunate a 
really luckless Court, which deserves to be commiserated 
with and wept over rather than upbraided. For it is 
plain to every one that the first and last reason for all 
this is the foreigner and no one else. Everything the 
foreigner does is always a source of trouble. 

Even the machinery of government has not been dis- 
turbed by the fact that vast Peking, the vaunted capital, 
is in the hands of ruthless invaders. At first every one 
thought that with the Palace empty, and all the great 
Boards and offices made mere camping-places for thou- 
sands of hostile soldiery, the government of the whole 
empire would be paralysed sterilised. Yet that has not 
happened. The government goes on much the same as 
ever. We know that now. For as the Court flees it 
issues edicts, receives reports and accounts, is met with 
tribute from provincial governors and viceroys, is 
clothed and banqueted, makes fresh appointments, does 
its day's work while it runs. I cannot understand, there- 
fore, how this is to end. It is beyond the keenest intel- 
lects in Peking, and people are now simply waiting for 
things to happen and to accept facts as they may be 
dealt out by the Fates. It Is an inevitable policy. For 
you must always accept facts when you cannot mould 
them. 



XV 

THE CLIMAX 

October, 1900. 



I am becoming tired of it all once again inexpressibly 
tired. It seems to me at times now as if those of us who 
remain had been very sick, and then, when we had be- 
come convalescent, had been ordered by some cruel fate 
to remain sitting in our sick-rooms forever. A siege 
is always a hospital a hospital where mad thoughts 
abound and where mad things are done; where, under 
the stimulus of an unnatural excitement, new beings are 
evolved, beings who, while having the outward shape 
of their former selves, and, indeed, most of the old out- 
ward characteristics, are yet reborn in some subtle way 
and are no longer the same. 

For you can never be exactly the same ; about that there 
is no doubt. You have been made sick, as it were, by 
tasting a dangerous poison. Great soldiers have often 
told their men after great battles have been fought and 
great wars won that they have tasted the salt of life. 
The salt of life ! Is it true, or is it merely a mistake, 
such as life-loving man most naturally makes? For it 
can be nothing but the salt of death which has lain for a 
brief instant on the tongue of every soldier a revolting 
salt which the soldier refuses to swallow and only is 
compelled to with strange cries and demon-like mutter- 
ings. Sometimes, poor mortal, all his struggles and his 



THE CLIMAX 441 

oaths are in vain. The dread salt is forced down his 
throat and he dies. The very fortunate have only an 
acrid taste which defies analysis left them. Of these 
more fortunate there are, however, many classes. Some, 
because they are neurotic or have some hereditary taint, 
the existence of which they have never suspected, in the 
end succumb ; others do not entirely succumb, but carry 
traces to their graves ; yet others do not appear to mind 
at all. It is a very subtle poison, which may lie hidden 
in the blood for many months and many years. I believe 
it is a terrible thing. 

Nobody should have been allowed to stay behind after 
hearing for so many weeks that ceaseless roar, sustain- 
ing that endless strain, enduring so much. They should 
have been made to forget by force. 

And yet even this nobody understands or cares to speak 
of, although a number of men are still half mad. The 
newcomers, soldiers and civilians alike, who never cease 
streaming in now to gaze and gape and inquire how it 
was all done, are quite indifferent. Some say that it must 
have been an immense farce that there was really noth- 
ing worth speaking about. Others wish to know curious 
details which have no general importance. The English- 
men are proud, and want to know whether you were in- 
side the British Legation, their Legation, and when they 
have heard yes or no their interest ceases. They little 
know what the Legation stood for. The Americans 
march up to the Tartar Wall, talk about ' 'Uncle Sam's 
boys," and exclaim that it requires no guessing to tell 
who saved the Legations. The French are the same, so 
are the Germans, so even the Italians. Only the Japan- 
ese and the Russians say nothing. 

At first I was at some pains to explain to each separate 



442 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

man what really occurred. I pulled out my rough map, 
all thumb-marked and dirtied with brick chips and the 
soil of the trenches, and showed stage by stage how the 
drama unrolled. It was no good. Poor me ! nobody 
quite understood. Some thought possibly that I was a 
glib liar; others did not even trouble to think anything. 
How much they understood ! They had not the back- 
ground, the atmosphere, the long weeks which were 
necessary to teach even us ourselves. They had not 
tasted the poison and did not yet suspect its existence. 
So I gradually desisted. Now I say nothing, never a 
word. I listen and understand how history is made. It 
is best never to explain or argue if you thoroughly under- 
stand. Rhetoric is only the amplification of something 
long understood in one's heart of hearts. 

I am, therefore, tired of it all, inexpressibly tired. I 
wish to escape from my hospital, to go away to some 
clean land where they understand so little of such things 
that their indifference will in the end, perhaps, convince 
me and make me forget. 

Yet can one ever forget? 



XVI 

THE END 

November, 1900. 



Another month, and I have made up my mind quite 
suddenly. I have finished with it at least, in outward 
form. After waiting a couple of weeks and wonder- 
ing what I should do, a last argument brought it about 
an argument with a German which ended by enraging 
me to an impossible point and making me challenge him 
to anything he liked. That showed me that my last safe 
moment had arrived. 

He was a youngish officer sent from the Field-Marshal's 
staff to discuss some diplomatic-military details with my 
chief. The business part was soon over, for there was 
really little to decide, and then the man fell to talking 
about what should be done. He said that were there not 
so much rivalry and jealousy, and could Waldersee only 
act as he wished, they would have proper punitive ex- 
peditions which would shoot all the headmen of every 
village for hundreds of miles, and make such an example 
of everybody that the memory would endure for gener- 
ations in every district where there had been Boxers. 
The officer was eloquent because he had only just arrived, 
and understood nothing absolutely nothing. For some 
reason our stars crossed and I hated him immediately. 
So I waited until he had finished so that I could begin. 
Then I began. 



444 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

I cannot even remember all I said, for I was greatly 
enraged by the brutality of the man's ideas, but I treated 
him as he had never been treated before. As I poured 
out my lava stream and he slowly understood what I 
meant, he first became very red, and then very pale, and 
finally he stood up. I took advantage of that action, 
and since we all still are armed, I told him he could 
have satisfaction, at once if he wished, and at any num- 
ber of paces he chose to name. 

My chief then suddenly intervened, and, trembling 
violently, said that it could not go on that it was a mis- 
take. He took the blame on his shoulders, he said, and 
would apologise himself later on. For many minutes he 
harangued, and in the end the officer went away with his 
eyes glittering, but not too reluctantly. He knew that 
I could have killed him with my second chamber unless 
his first shot hit my vitals. . . . 

After that there was a second scene but one which 
was much more brief. My chief attempted to deal with 
me, and to him I spoke my mind. I am afraid I said 
many things which were so brusque that modern society 
would have reproved me. I told him that it was well 
known that he and every other man of position had been 
tremulously fearing death at every turn for weeks, and 
had been unwilling to do anything when they might have 
really saved the situation ; merely because they were so 
afraid; that everything had been misstated in the re- 
ports, and that although the full truth might not be 
known for years, eventually it would be known and peo- 
ple would understand. I said that this petty life created 
by men without stomachs had ended by disgusting me, 
and that I had finished with it for good and for ever. 
Then I went out in silence, slamming the door behind 



THE END 445 

me with all the strength of my arms. It was a most 
enormous slam. It had to be so ; it was my last word 

In my commandeered residence I found that the breath 
of misfortune had also come. The rightful owners had 
managed to steal into Peking in the train of some big 
official who had had an escort of foreign soldiery pro- 
vided him, and now smilingly and cringingly greeted 
me, and thanked me for my guardianship during their 
unavoidable absence. The Manchu women were 
grouped round in great excitement. They did not relish 
the change they did not want it. The tall and stately 
one who had first touched my knee on that dark night 
during the sack was not there. 

The rightful owners irritated me intensely with their 
obsequiousness. I was irritated because they lived : they 
should have ceased to exist long ago. They were still 
very much afraid, although they had reached Peking in 
safety, for they half thought that I would hand them over 
to some provost-marshal as Boxer partisans in order to 
get rid of them. They were very afraid. The Manchu 
women were all talking and praising me, and telling 
wonderful stories of all I had done. But the most im- 
portant one of them was absent. I became vaguely con- 
scious that this also meant something, that perhaps 
there was to be another tragedy. I found her later wish- 
ing to kill herself, to commit suicide, so that she, too, 
need never, return to her other life. . . . That was more 
terrible than the other scenes. I could do nothing, yet 
my responsibility had been great. In the end something 
was arranged. I hardly remember what. 

I was soon ready to go; on the same afternoon I had 
completed all my preparations. I had so little to pre- 
pare. Then I rode out for the last time with all my 



446 INDISCREET LETTERS FROM PEKING 

men behind me, and not a single other person. We 
passed down the streets out from the Tartar City, 
through the ruins of the great Ch'ien Men Gate, and 
then followed straight along the vast main street, still 
covered with debris and dirt, and skulls and broken 
weapons, as if the weeks and months which had gone by 
since the fighting had been quite unheeded. Near the 
outer gates of the city I met my three cavalrymen of the 
Indian regiment waiting to bid good-bye. They joined 
me with some attempt at gaiety, but that soon fizzled 
out. I had so plainly collapsed. 

We passed into the country with the tall crops still rot- 
ting as they stood, because every one had fled and no one 
dared to return. We went on faster and faster as the 
roads broadened, and as we galloped we met new troops 
marching in on Peking. They were Germans driving 
captives of many kinds in front of them. "Damned 
Germans," said the smaller officer, who was the senior, 
and who had been quite silent for some time. "Damned 
Germans," repeated the two others mechanically, as if 
this was a new creed, and I, approving, faintly smiled. 
That stirred them to talk again, and they told me that 
the expeditions had been settled on, and that they would 
have to go, too. Orders had come from home that they 
must not fall out with Waldersee. It was highly im- 
portant to placate the Germans because of South Africa. 
But the Americans would not go, neither would the Rus- 
sians, nor yet the Japanese. It was to be a new arrange- 
ment. They went on talking in this wise for a long 
time, and I heard these scraps of conversation vaguely 
as in a dream. Cynically I thought that, although I was 
leaving it all behind me in company of men who were 
strangers to Peking, the last words would still be con- 



THE END 447 1 

cerned with our tortuous diplomacy. Yet my gallant 
friends were only trying to console me to make me for- 
get. Such things they understood far better than others. 
They were from India, where men think a good deal, 
and sometimes act. They were treating me as best they 
could. Then when we came to a sharp rise over which 
the road curled and crawled, they halted suddenly, 
stretched out their hands, and bade me good-bye. They 
meant it to be a sharp wrench to be over quickly. Just 
on the rim of the horizon stretched the grey of the fad- 
ing Tartar Walls with their high-pitched towers. The 
sun sinking behind the western hills threw some last 
flames of golden fire, but the air remained chill. It was 
becoming cold, and even the dust no longer rose in 
clouds. Everything was pinned to the soil tired 
finished. . . . 

I rode on abruptly. Then, for the last time, my cavalry- 
men turned round and shouted faintly back to me. It 
was a word which carried well. " Chubb, Chubb, Chubb," 
they were shouting, to give my thoughts a turn. They 
knew what I must be thinking. They knew: they had 
been in India. I quickened my horse into a gallop, rode 
faster and faster, and before night had fallen I had 
gained the river-boats. It was over. . . .